An ongoing discussion about SAP infrastructure

Rebuttal to “Why choose x86” for SAP blog posting

I was intrigued by a recent blog post, entitled: Part 1: SAP on VMware : Why choose x86.  I will get to the credibility of the author in just a moment.  First, however, I felt it might be interesting to review the points that were made and discuss these, point by point.

  1. No Vendor Lock-in: When it comes to x86 world, there is no vendor lock-in as you can use any vendor and any make and model as per your requirements”.  Interesting that the author did not discuss the vendor lock-in on chip, firmware or hypervisor.  Intel, or to a very minor degree, AMD, is required for all x86 systems.   This would be like being able to choose any car as long as the engine was manufactured by Toyota (a very capable manufacturer but with a lock on the industry, might not offer the best price or innovation). As any customer knows, each x86 system has its own unique BIOS and/or firmware.  Sure, you can switch from one vendor to another or add a second vendor, but lacking proper QA, training, and potentially different operational procedures, this can result in problems.  And then there is the hypervisor with VMware clearly the preference of the author as it is for most SAP x86 virtualization customers.  No lock-in there?

SAP certifies multiple different OS and hypervisor environments for their code.  Customers can utilize one or more at any given time.  As all logic is written in 3rd and 4th GL languages, i.e. ABAP and JAVA, and is contained within the DB server, customers can move from one OS, HW platform and/or hypervisor to another and only have to, wait for it, do proper QA, training and modify operational procedures as appropriate.  So, SAP has removed lock-in regardless of OS, HW or hypervisor.

Likewise, Oracle, DB2 and Sybase support most OS’s, HW and hypervisors (with some restrictions).  Yes, a migration is required for movement between dissimilar stacks, but this could be said for moving from Windows to Linux and any move between different stacks still requires all migration activities to be completed with the potential exception of data movement when you “simply” change the HW vendor.

  1. Lower hardware & maintenance costs: x86 servers are far better than cheaper than non-x86 servers. This also includes the ongoing annual maintenance costs (AMC) as well.”  Funny, however, that the author only compared HW and maintenance costs and conveniently forgot about OS and hypervisor costs.  Also interesting that the author forgot about utilization of systems.  If one system is ½ the cost of another, but you can only drive, effectively, ½ the workload, then the cost is the same per unit of work.  Industry analysts have suggested that 45% utilization is the maximum sustained to be expected out of VMware SAP systems with most seeing far less.  By the same token, those analysts say that 85% or higher is to be expected of Power Systems.  Also interesting to note that the author did not say which systems were being compared as new systems and options from IBM Power Systems offer close to price parity with x86 systems when HW, OS, hypervisor and 3 years of maintenance are included.
  1. Better performance:  Some of the models of x86 servers can actually out-perform the non-x86 servers in various forms.”  Itanium is one of the examples, which is a no-duh for anyone watching published benchmarks.  The other example is a Gartner paper sponsored by Intel which actually does not quote a single SAP benchmark.  Too bad the author suggested this was a discussion of SAP.  Last I checked (today 2/10/14), IBM Power Systems can deliver almost 5 times the SAPS performance of the largest x86 server (as measured by the 2-tier SD benchmark).  On a SAPS/core basis, Power deliver almost 30% more SAPS/core compared to Windows systems and almost 60% more than Linux/x86 systems.  Likewise, on the 3-tier benchmark, the latest Power result is almost 4.5 times that of the latest x86 result.  So, much for point 3.
  1. Choice of OS: You have choice of using any OS of your choice and not forced to choose a specific OS.”  Yes, it really sucks that with Power, you are forced to choose, AIX … or IBM I for Business … or SUSE Linux … or RedHat Linux which is so much worse than being forced to choose Microsoft Windows … or Oracle Solaris … or SUSE Linux … or RedHat Linux.
  1. Disaster Recovery: You can use any type of hardware, make and model when it comes to disaster recovery (DR). You don’t need to maintain hardware from same vendor.”  Oh, really?  First, I have not met any customers that use one stack for production and a totally different one in DR, but that is not to say that it can’t be done.  Second, remember the discussion about BIOS and firmware?  There can be different patches, prerequisites and workarounds for different stacks.  Few customers want to spend all of the money they “saved” by investing in a separate QA cycle for DR.  Even fewer want to take a chance of DR not working when they can least afford it, i.e. when there is a disaster.  Interestingly, Power actually supports this better than x86 as the stack is identical regardless of which generation, model, mhz is used.  You can even run in Power6 mode on a Power7+ server further enabling complete compatibility regardless of chip type meaning you can use older systems in DR to back up brand new systems in production.
  1. Unprecedented scalability: You can now scale the x86 servers the way you want, TB’s of RAM’s , more than 64 cores etc is very much possible/available in x86 environment.”  Yes, any way that you want as long as you don’t need more capacity than is available with the current 80 core systems.  Any way that you want as long as you are not running with VMware which limits partitions to 128 threads which equates to 64 cores.  Any way that you want but that VMware suggests that you contain partitions within a NUMA block which means a max of 40 cores.  Any way that you want as long as you recognize that VMware partitions are further limited in terms of scalability which results in an effective limit of 32 threads/16 cores as I have discussed in this blog previously.
  1. Support from Implementation Vendor: “If you check with your implementation vendor/partner, you will find they that almost all of them can certify/support implementation of SAP on x86 environment. The same is the case if you are thinking about migrating from non-x86 to x86 world.”  No clue what point is being made here as all vendors on all supported systems and OSs support SAP on their systems.

The author referred to my blog as part of the proof of his/her theories which is the only reason why I noticed this blog in the first place.  The author describes him/herself as “Working with Channel Presales of an MNC”.  Interesting that he/she hides him/herself behind “MNC” because the “MNC” that I work for believes that transparency and honesty are required in all internet postings.  That said, the author writes about nothing but VMware, so you will have to draw your own conclusions as to where this individual works or with which “MNC” his/her biases lie.

The author, in the reference to my posting, completely misunderstood the point that I made regarding the use of 2-tier SAP benchmark data in projecting the requirements of database only workloads and apparently did not even read the “about me” which shows up by default when you open my blog.  I do not work for SAP and nothing that I say can be considered to represent them in any way.

Fundamentally, the author’s bottom line comment, “x86 delivers compelling total cost of ownership (TCO) while considering SAP on x86 environment” is neither supported by the facts that he/she shared nor by those shared by others.  IBM Power Systems continues to offer very competitive costs with significantly superior operational characteristics for SAP and non-SAP customers.


February 17, 2014 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , ,


  1. Strange, nobody seems to be buying pSeries for SAP or any other use and this blogsite seems to focus on how x86 systems can’t/won’t/shouldn’t work.

    The tone of this blogsite is pretty unscientific and seems to be arguing “It is impossible for humans to ever fly” yet when when we go to an airport there hundreds of aircraft taking off every hour.

    If x86 systems are so much more inferior to IBM pSeries then why are people stopping buying pSeries and switching to x86?

    Comment by dying niche technology | April 21, 2014 | Reply

    • I love a good debate based on facts, so lets consider the “facts” you raise. “Nobody seems to be buying pSeries for SAP” – Really? The facts seem to be in opposition to your claim. I won’t read off the list of Fortune 100 companies that are, in fact, buying Power Systems for SAP (a little more than 50% of those that use SAP in that list, btw), as that would be comparing actual facts against “seems to be” lack of facts. “this blogsite seems to focus on how x86 systems can’t/won’t/shouldn’t work” – I just reread my blog posting, just to be sure, and could not find a single place in which I suggested that x86 systems can’t/won’t/shouldn’t work. Since that was not clear to you, I will say, without qualification, that you can make “anything” work in an SAP environment. It is just a matter of how much it costs, how frequently it fails, how well it performs, how secure it is, how many people it takes to manage it and how much environmentals are consumed in the process. “The tone of this blogsite is pretty unscientific” – as an engineer, I describe science as the study of facts learned through observation and experimentation. In this post, I did exactly that, I examined the claims made by the other blog and pointed out facts which contradicted them much in the same way that Sir George Cayley (since you brought up the issue of human flight) disproved the claims of individuals of his time that humans could not fly and proposed that lift could be generated by passing air over a fixed wing. You might want to reread the blog with a less biased eye to see how “scientific” it really is. Lastly, you pointed out “If x86 systems are so much more inferior to IBM pSeries then why are people stopping buying pSeries and switching to x86?” First, you wrongly assume that “all” people are stopping buying “pSeries” (we actually call it IBM Power Systems), an assertion that is not based in any fact. Second, has there ever been a point in history in which individuals “followed” a trend even when a careful examination of the facts would have suggested another alternative? This is called the “bandwagon effect”. Everybody “knew” that there were real witches in Salem and participated in killing them. Women were regarded as intellectually inferior to men and were relegated to lower paying and less demanding jobs then men, until we realized that they are actually just as smart (if not smarter) and are less driven by testosterone allowing them to make more rational choices in many situations. Betamax was a clearly superior technology for video storage but everyone bought VHS. No one doubted that IBM’s OS/2 was a superior OS to Microsoft Windows. The DEC Alpha was the best microchip in the world yet went extinct. I could go on as there are hundreds of examples in recent and ancient history in which individuals and companies have made decisions based on a poor interpretation of information or by misinformation provided by others. Sometimes, very persuasive marketing, campaigns, press and analyst influence or even sheer numerical advantage results in trends, but it does not mean the basis of the trend is accurate.

      Everyone “knows” that x86 systems are less expensive than IBM Power Systems just as everyone knows that the Mistubishi Lancer ES is less expensive than the Toyota Prius Four. Would it surprise you to know that, according to Consumer Reports, the Lancer costs 8 cents more to drive per mile when all cost factors are considered? In the same way, when all cost factors are considered including systems, OS, virtualization, maintenance and support, realistic utilization levels (30 to 40% for most virtualized x86 enviornments, 70 to 80% for most Power environments), stand alone DB systems for most x86 compared to virtualized DB systems for Power, high availability, non-production and DR, etc., Power Systems end up costing less than x86 systems. And that is before superior reliability, much better security, flexibility and simply being able to sleep at night are factored into the equation. Are some companies moving parts of their SAP environments to x86? Yes, often on the misguided understanding that it is less expensive. Are many others keeping their most important parts on Power? Yes. And when customers understand that they can save money by switching back to Power or using new and very low cost Linux on Power only models, will they switch back? The answer is likely to be a most resounding Yes!

      Comment by Alfred Freudenberger | April 25, 2014 | Reply

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