An ongoing discussion about SAP infrastructure

SAP support for multiple production HANA VMs with VMware

Recently, SAP updated their SAP notes regarding the ability to run multiple production HANA VMs with VMware.  On the surface, this sounds like VMware has achieved parity with IBM’s PowerVM, but the reality could not be much farther away from that perception.  This is not to say that users of VMware for HANA will see no improvement.  For a few customers, this will be a good option, but as always, the devil is in the details and, as always, I will play the part of the devil.

Level of VMware supported: 5.5 … still.  VMware 6.0 is supported only for non-production.[i]  If VMware 6.0 is so wonderful and they are such “great” partners with SAP, it seems awfully curious why a product announced on Feb 3, 2015 is still not supported by SAP.

Maximum size of each production HANA instance: 64 virtual processors and 1TB of memory, however this translates to 32 physical processors with Hyperthreading enabled and sizing guidelines must still be followed.  Currently, BW HANA is sized @ 2TB for 4 Haswell chips, i.e. 28.4GB/core which translates to a maximum size of 910GB for a 32 core VM/64 vp, so slightly less than the 1TB supported.  Suite on HANA on Intel is supported at 1.5x higher memory ratio than BW, but since the size of the VM is limited to 1TB, this point is largely moot.

Performance impact: At a minimum, SAP estimates a 12% performance degradation compared to bare metal (upon which most benchmarks are run and from which most sizings are based), so one would logically conclude that the memory/cpu ratio should be reduced by the same level.  The 12% performance impact, but not the reduced sizing effect that I believe should be the result, are detailed in a SAP note.[ii]  It goes on to state “However, there are around 100 low-level performance tests in the test suite exercising various HANA kernel components that exhibit a performance degradation of more than 12%. This indicates that there are particular scenarios which might not be suited for HANA on VMware.Only 100?  When you consider the only like-for-like published benchmarks using VMware and HANA[iii], which showed a 12% degradation (coincidence, I think not) for a single VM HANA system vs. bare metal, it leaves one to wonder what sort of degradation might occur in a multiple VM HANA environment.  There is no guidance provided on this which might make anything less than a bleeding edge customer with no regard for SLA’s to be VERY cautious.  Another SAP note[iv] goes on to state, “For optimal VM performance, VMware recommends to size the VMs within the NUMA node boundaries of the specific server system (CPU cores and local NUMA node memory).” How much impact?  Not provided here.  So, either you size your VMs to fit within NUMA building blocks, i.e. a single 18-core socket or you suffer an undefined performance penalty.  It is also interesting to note what VMware said in Performance Best Practices for VMware vSphere® 5.5Be careful when using CPU affinity on systems with hyper-threading. Because the two logical processors share most of the processor resources, pinning vCPUs, whether from different virtual machines or from a single SMP virtual machine, to both logical processors on one core (CPUs 0 and 1, for example) could cause poor performance.”  That certainly gives me the warm and fuzzy!

Multiple VM support: Yes, you can now run multiple production HANA VMs on a system[v].  HOWEVER, “The vCPUs of a single VM must be pinned to physical cores, so the CPU cores of a socket get exclusively used by only one single VM. A single VM may span more than one socket, however. CPU and Memory overcommitting must not be used.”  This is NOT the value of virtualization, but of physical partitioning, a wonderful technology if we were living in the 1990s.  So, if you have an 8-socket system, you can run up to 8 simultaneous production VMs as long as al VMs are smaller than 511GB for BW, 767GB for SoH.  Need 600GB for BW, well that will cost you a full socket even though you only need a few cores thereby reducing the maximum number of VMs you can support on the system.  And this is before we take the 12% performance impact detailed above into consideration which could further limit the memory per core and number of VMs supported.

Support for mixed production HANA VMs and non-production: Not included in any of the above mentioned SAP notes.  One can infer from the above notes that this is not permitted meaning that there is no way to harvest unused cycles from production for the use of ANY other workload, whether non-prod or non-HANA DB.

Problem resolution: SAP Note 1995460 details the process by which problems may be resolved and while they are guided via SAP’s OSS system, there is transfer of ownership of problems when a known VMware related fix is not available.  The exact words are: “For all other performance related issues, the customer will be referred within SAP’s OSS system to VMware for support. VMware will take ownership and work with SAP HANA HW/OS partner, SAP and the customer to identify the root cause. Due to the abstraction of hardware that occurs when using virtualization, some hardware details are not directly available to SAP HANA support.” and of a little more concern “SAP support may request that additional details be gathered by the customer or the SAP HANA HW partner to help with troubleshooting issues or VMware to reproduce the issue on SAP HANA running in a bare metal environment.”

My summary of the above: One of more production HANA instances may be run under VMware 5.5 with a maximum of 64 vp/32 pp (assuming Hyperthreading is enabled) and a minimum of 12% performance degradation with potential proportionate impact on sizing, with guidance about “some scenarios might be suited for HANA with VMware”, with potential performance issues when VMs cross socket boundaries, with physical partitioning at the socket level, no sharing of CPU resources, no support for running non-production on the same system to harvest unused cycles and potential requirement to reproduce issues on a bare metal system if necessary.

Yes, that was a long, run-on sentence.  But it begs the question of just when would VMware be a good choice for hosting one or more production HANA instances?  My take is that unless you have very small instances which are unsuitable for HANA MDC (multitenancy) or are a cloud provider for very small companies, there is simply no value in this solution.  For those potential cloud providers, their target customer set would include companies with very small HANA requirements and the willingness to accept an SLA that is very flexible on performance targets while using a shared infrastructure for which there a wide variety of issues for which a problem in one VM could result in the whole system to fail with multiple customers impacted simultaneously.

And in case anyone is concerned that I am simply the bearer of bad news, let me remind the reader that IBM Power Systems with PowerVM is supported by SAP with up to 4 production HANA VMs (on the E870 and E880, 3 on all other HANA supported Power Systems) with granularity at the core level, no restrictions on NUMA boundaries, the ability to have a shared pool in place of one of the above production VMs with any number of non-production HANA VMs up to the limits of PowerVM which can utilize unused cycles from the production VMs, no performance penalties, no caveats about what types of workloads are well suited for PowerVM, excellent partition isolation preventing the vast majorities that could happen in one VM from affecting any other ones and no problem resolution handoffs or ownership changes.

In other words, if customers want to continue the journey around virtualization and server consolidation that they started in the early 2000s, want to have a very flexible infrastructure which can grow as they move to SoH, shrink as they move to S/4, grow as they consolidate more workloads into their primary instance, shrink again as they roll off data using data tiering, data aging or perhaps Hadoop and all without having to take significant system outages or throw away investment and purchase additional systems, IBM Power Systems with PowerVM can support this; VMware cannot.



[i] 1788665 – SAP HANA Support for virtualized / partitioned (multi-tenant) environments

[ii] 1995460 – Single SAP HANA VM on VMware vSphere in production

[iii] Benchmark detail for bare metal and VMware 5.5 based runs from

06/02/2014 HP 2,000,000,000 111,850 SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 11 on VMWARE ESX 5.5 SAP HANA 1.0 SAP NetWeaver 7.30 1 database server: HP DL580 Gen8, 4 processors / 60 cores / 120 threads, Intel Xeon Processor E7-4880 v2, 2.50 GHz, 64 KB L1 cache and 256 KB L2 cache per core, 30 MB L3 cache per processor, 1024 GB main memory

03/26/2014 HP 2,000,000,000 126,980 SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 11 SAP HANA 1.0 SAP NetWeaver 7.30 1 database server: HP DL580 Gen8, 4 processors / 60 cores / 120 threads, Intel Xeon Processor E7-4880 v2, 2.50 GHz, 64 KB L1 cache and 256 KB L2 cache per core, 30 MB L3 cache per processor, 1024 GB main memory

[iv] 2161991 – VMware vSphere configuration guidelines

[v] 2024433 – Multiple SAP HANA VMs on VMware vSphere in production


April 5, 2016 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Great blog. Very informative. Do you know when SAP is planning on supporting HANA on POWER running RHEL and not SUSE?


    Comment by Francois Lapierre | April 5, 2016 | Reply

    • Francois, SAP has not released any information as to when RHEL support will be released, but they have indicated that this is an important deliverable to them as they do not want the choice of Linux distribution to be an impediment to customers’ successful implementations.

      Comment by Alfred Freudenberger | April 14, 2016 | Reply

  2. Alfred

    Nice update on this blog. Lots of info on VMWare 5.5 and so on. And the restrictions that customers need to think about while running on 5.5 and/or 6.0.
    But how is it with getting less restrictions on Hana on Power ?

    The platform has lots more potential then what it is allowed to show. (been there done that ;))



    Comment by Frans Trip | April 27, 2016 | Reply

    • Frans, An excellent question. Where VMware HANA environments are restricted to 64vp/32pp (with Hyperthreading) and 1TB of memory, PVM HANA allows for up to 96 pp and 9TB currently with SoH and S/4HANA. Where VMware HANA has at least a 12% performance penalty vs. bare metal, PVM HANA is tested only with virtualization and therefore comes with no additional performance overhead. Where VMware HANA VMs must have exclusive ownership of each socket(s) in which it runs and therefore granularity is 18-core at a time, PVM HANA granularity is 1-core at a time and sockets may be shared. Where VMware HANA has no provision for utilization of unused resources by other VMs, e.g. non-prod, PVM HANA may be set up with dedicated-donating LPARS, i.e. when production does not require all of the CPU resources allocated to its VM, the unused capacity can be used by any LPAR in the shared pool that can support any type of VM other than one running production HANA, including non-prod HANA, app servers, other DB servers, non-SAP applications, etc.

      Comment by Alfred Freudenberger | May 2, 2016 | Reply

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