An ongoing discussion about SAP infrastructure

SAP Extends support for Business Suite 7 to 2027 and beyond … but the devil is always in the detail

The SAP world has been all abuzz since SAP’s announcement on February 4, 2020 about their extension of support for Business Suite 7 (BS7) which many people know as ECC 6.0 and/or related components.  According to the press release[i], customers with existing maintenance contracts will be able to continue using and getting support for BS7 through the end of 2027 and will be able to purchase extended maintenance support through the end of 2030 for an additional 2 points over their current contracts.

It is clear that SAP blinked first although, in an interview[ii], SAP positions this as a “proactive step”, not as a reaction to customer pushback.   Many tweets and articles have already come out talking about how customers now have breathing room and have clarity on support for BS7.  And if I just jumped on the bandwagon here, those of you who have been reading my blog for years would be sorely disappointed.

And now for the rest of the story

Most of you are aware that BS7 is the application suite which can use one of several 3rd party database options.  Historically, the most popular database platform for medium to large customers was Oracle DB, followed by IBM Db2.  BS7 can also run on HANA and in that context is considered Suite on HANA (SoH).

What was not mentioned in this latest announcement is the support for the underlying databases.  For this, one must access the respective SAP Notes for Oracle[iii] and Db2[iv].

This may come as a surprise to some, but if you are running Oracle, you only have until November of this year to move to Oracle 19c (or Oracle 18c, but that would seem pretty pointless as its support ends in June of 2021.)  But it gets much more fun as that is only supported under normal maintenance until March, 2023 and under extended support until March, 2026.  In theory, there might be another version or dot release supported beyond this time, but that is not detailed in any SAP Note.   In the best-case scenario, Oracle 12 customers will have to upgrade to 19c and then later to an, as yet unannounced, later version which may be more transition than many customers are willing to accept.

Likewise, for Db2 customers, 10.5, 11.1 and 11.5 are all supported through December, 2025.  The good news is that no upgrades are required through the end of 2025.

For both, however, what happens if later versions of either DB are not announced as being supported by SAP. Presumably, this means that a heterogeneous migration to Suite on HANA would be required.  In other words, unless SAP provides clarity on the DB support picture, customers using either Oracle DB or IBM Db2 may be faced with an expensive, time consuming and disruptive upgrade to SoH near the end of 2025.  Most customers have expressed that they are unwilling to do back to back migrations, so if they are required to migrate to SoH in 2025 and then migrate to S/4HANA in 2027, that is simply too close for comfort.

Lacking any further clarification from SAP, it still seems as if it would be best to complete your conversion to S/4HANA by the end of 2025.  Alternately, you may want to ask SAP for a commitment to support your current and/or planned DB for BS7 through the end of 2027, see how they respond and how much they will charge.


February 6, 2020 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The hype and the reality of HANA

Can you imagine walking into a new car dealership and before you can say anything about your current vehicle and needs, a salesperson  immediately offers to show you the latest, greatest and most popular new car!  Of course you can since this is what that person gets paid to do.  Now, imagine the above scenario where the salesperson says “how is your current car not meeting your needs?” and following it up with “I don’t want you to buy anything from me unless it brings you substantial value”.  After smelling salts have been administered, you might recover enough to act like a cartoon character trying to check your ears to make sure they are functioning properly and ask the salesperson to repeat what he or she said.

The first scenario is occurring constantly with SAP account execs, systems integrators and consultants playing the above role of new car salesperson.  The second rarely happens, but that is exactly the role that I will play in this blog post.

The hype around HANA could not be much louder and deep than it is currently.  As bad as it might be, the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) is worse.  The hype suggests that HANA can do everything except park your car since that is a future capability (not really, I just made that up.)  At the very worst, this hype suggests a vision for the future that, while not solving world hunger or global warming, might improve the operations and profitability of companies.  The second is more insidious.  It suggests that unless you act like lambs and follow the lead of the individual telling this tale, you will be like a lost sheep, out of support and further out of the mainstream.

I will address the second issue first.  As of today, the beginning of August, SAP has made absolutely no statement indicating they will discontinue support for any platform, OS or DB.  In fact, a review of SAP notes shows support for most OS’s with no end date and even DB2 9.7 has an end of support date that is several years past that of direct standard support from IBM!  So, what gives???  Is SAP saying one thing internally and another externally?  I have been working with SAP for far too long and know their business practices too well to believe that they would act in such a two-faced manner not to mention exposing themselves to another round of expensive and draining lawsuits.  Instead, I place the arrow of shame squarely on those rogue SAP account execs that are perpetuating this story.  The next time that one of them makes this sort of suggestion, turn the tables on them.  Ask them to provide you with a statement, in writing, backed up with official press releases or SAP notes, showing that this is the case.  If they can’t, it is reasonable to conclude that they are simply trying to use the age old FUD tactic to get you to spend more money with them now rather than waiting until/if SAP actually decides to stop supporting a particular type of HW, OS or DB.

And now for the first issue; the hype around HANA.  HANA offers dramatic benefits to some SAP customers.  Some incarnation of HANA may indeed be inevitable for the vast majority.  However, the suggestion that HANA is the end-all be-all flies in the face of many other solutions on the market, many of which are radically less expensive and often have dramatically lower risk.  Here is a very simple example.

Most customers would like to reduce the time and resources required to run batch jobs.  It seems as if there is not a CFO anywhere that does not want to reduce month end/quarter close from multiple days down to a day or less.  CFOs are not the only ones with that desire as certain functions must come to a halt during a close and/or the availability requirements go sky high during this time period requiring higher IT investments.  SAP has suggested that HANA can achieve exactly this, however it is not quite clear whether this will require BW HANA, Suite on HANA or some combination of the two or even another as yet unannounced HANA variant.  I am sure that if you ask a dozen consultants, you will get a dozen different answer to how to achieve these goals with HANA and it is entirely possible that each of them are correct in their own way.  One thing is certain however: it won’t come cheaply.  Not only will a company have to buy HANA HW and SW, but they will have to pay for a migration and a boatload of consulting services.  It will also not come without risk.  BW HANA and Suite on HANA require a full migration.  Those systems become the exclusive repository of business critical data.  HANA is currently in its 58th revision in a little over two years.  HA, DR and backup/recovery tools are still evolving.  No benchmarks for Suite on HANA have been published which means that sizing guidelines are based purely on the size of the DB, not on throughput or even users.  Good luck finding extensive large scale customer references or even medium sized ones in your industry.   To make matters worse, a migration to HANA is a one way path.  There is no published migration methodology to move from HANA back to a conventional DB.  It is entirely possible that Suite on HANA will be much more stable than BW HANA was, that these systems will scream on benchmarks,  that all of those HA, DR, Backup/Recovery and associated tools will mature in short order and that monkeys will fly.  Had the word risk not been invented previously, Suite on HANA would probably be the first definition in the dictionary for it.

So, is there another way to achieve those goals, maybe one that is less expensive, does not require a migration, software licenses or consulting services?  Of course not because that would be as impossible to believe as the above mentioned flying monkeys.   Well, strap on your red shoes and welcome to Oz, because it is not only possible but many customers are already achieving exactly those gains.  How?  By utilizing high performance flash storage subsystems like the IBM FlashSystem.  Where transaction processing typically accesses a relatively small amount of data cached in database buffers, batch, month end and quarter close jobs tend to be very disk intensive.  A well-tuned disk subsystem can deliver access speeds of around 5 milliseconds.  SSDs can drop this to about 1 millisecond.   A FlashSystem can deliver incredible throughput while accessing data in as little as 100 microseconds.   Many customers have seen batch times reduced to a third or less than what they experienced before implementing FlashSystem.  Best of all, there are no efforts around migration, recoding, consulting and no software license costs.  A FlashSystem is “just another disk subsystem” to SAP.  If an IBM SVC (SAN Volume Controller) or V7000 is placed in front of a FlashSystem, data can be transparently replicated from a conventional disk subsystem to FlashSystem without even a system outage.  If the subsystem does not produce the results expected the system can be repurposed or, if tried out via a POC, simply returned at no cost.  To date, few, if any, customers have returned a FlashSystem after completing a POC as they have universally delivered such incredible results that the typical result is an order for more units.

Another super simple, no risk option is to consider using the old 2-tier approach to SAP systems.  In this situation, instead of utilizing separate database and application server systems/partitions, database and app server instances are housed within a single OS system/partition.  Some customers don’t realize how “chatty” app servers are with an amazing number of very small queries and data running back and forth to DB servers.  As fast as Ethernet is, it is as slow as molasses compared to the speed of an inter-process communication within an OS.  As crazy as it may seem, simply by consolidating DB and app servers into a single OS, batch and close activity may speed up dramatically.  And here is the no risk part.  Most customers have QA systems and from an SAP architecture perspective, there is no difference in having app servers within a single OS compared to on separate OSs.  As a result, customers can simply give it a shot and see what happens.  No pain other than a little time to set up and test the environment.  Yes, this is the salesman telling you not to spend any money with him.

This is not the only business case for HANA.  Others involve improving reporting or even doing away with reporting in favor of real-time analytics.  Here is the interesting part.  Before Suite on HANA or even BW HANA became available, SAP had introduced real-time replication into side-car HANA appliances.    With these devices, the source of business critical data is kept on conventional databases.  You remember those archaic old systems that are reliable, secure, scalable and around which you have built a best practices environment not to mention have purchased a DB license and are simply paying maintenance on it.  Perhaps naively, I call this the 95-5 rule, not 80-20.  You may be able to achieve 95% of your business goals with such a side-car without risking a migration or the integrity of your data.   Also, since you will be dealing with a subset of data, the cost of the SW license for such a device will likely be a small fraction of the cost of an entire DB.  Even better, as an appliance, if it fails, you just replace the appliance as the data source has not been changed.  Sounds too good to be true?  Ask your SAP AE and see what sort of response you get.  Or make it a little more interesting and suggest that you may be several years away from being ready go to Suite on HANA but could potentially do a side-car in the short term and observe the way the shark will smell blood in the water.  By the way, since you have to be on current levels of SAP software in order to migrate to Suite on HANA and reportedly 70% of customers in North America are not current, (no idea of the rest of the world) so this may not even be much or a stretch.

And I have not even mentioned DB2 BLU yet but will leave that for a later blog posting.

August 5, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Why SAP HANA on IBM Power Systems

This entry has been superseded by a new one:


Before you get the wrong impression, SAP has not announced the availability of HANA on Power and in no way, should you interpret this posting as any sort of pre-announcement.  This is purely a discussion about why you should care whether SAP decides to support HANA on Power .


As you may be aware, during SAP’s announcement of the availability of HANA for Business Suite DB for ramp-up customers in early January, Vishal Sikka, Chief Technology Officer and member of the Executive Board at SAP, stated “We have been working heavily with [IBM].  All the way from lifecycle management and servers to services even Cognos, Business Intelligence on top of HANA – and also evaluating the work that we have been doing on POWER.  As to see how far we can be go with POWER – the work that we have been doing jointly at HPI.  This is a true example of open co-innovation, that we have been working on.”  Ken Tsai, VP of SAP HANA product marketing, later added in an interview with IT Jungle,  “Power is something that we’re looking at very closely now.”  And from Amit Sinha, head of database and technology product marketing. “[HANA] on Power is a research project currently sponsored at Hasso Plattner Institute. We await results from that to take next meaningful steps jointly with IBM,”  Clearly, something significant is going on.  So, why should you care?


Very simply, the reasons why customers chose Power Systems (and perhaps HP Integrity and Oracle/Fujitsu SPARC/Solaris) for SAP DBs in the past, i.e. scalability, reliability, security, are just as relevant now with HANA as in the past with conventional databases, perhaps even more so.  Why more so?  Because once the promise of real time analytics on an operational database is realized, not necessarily in Version 1.0 of the product, but in the future undoubtedly, then the value obtained by this capability would result in the exact same loss of value if the system was not available or did not respond with the speed necessary for real time analytics.


A little known fact is that HANA for Business Suite DB currently is limited to a single node.  This means that scale out options, common in the BW HANA space and others, is not an option for this implementation of the product.  Until that becomes available, customers that wish to host large databases may require a larger number of cores than x86 vendors currently offer.


A second known but often overlooked fact is that parallel transactional database systems for SAP are often complex, expensive and have so many limitations that only two types of customers consider this option; those which need continuous or near continuous availability and those that want to move away from a robust UNIX solution and realize that to attain the same level of uptime as a single node UNIX system with conventional HA, an Oracle RAC or DB2 PureScale cluster is required.  Why is it so complex?  Without getting into too much detail, we need to look at the way SAP applications work and interact with the database.  As most are aware, when a user logs on to SAP, they are connecting to a unique application server and until they log off, will remain connected to that server.  Each application server is, in turn, connected to one node of a parallel DB cluster.  Each request to read or write data is sent to that node and if the data is local, i.e. in the memory of that node, the processing occurs very rapidly.  If, on the other hand, the data is on another node, that data must be moved from the remote node to the local node.  Oracle RAC and DB2 PureScale use two different approaches with Oracle RAC using their Cache Fusion to move the data across an IP network and DB2 PureScale using Remote DMA to move the data across the network without using an IP stack, thereby improving speed and reducing overhead.  Though there may be benefits of one over the other, this posting is not intended to debate this point, but instead point out that even with the fastest, lowest overhead transfer on an Infiniband network, access to remote memory is still thousands of time slower than accessing local memory.


Some applications are “cluster aware”, i.e. application servers connect to multiple DB nodes at the same time and direct traffic based on data locality which can only be possible if the DB and App servers work cooperatively to communicate what data is located where.  SAP Business Suite is not currently cluster aware meaning that without a major change in the Netweaver Stack, replacing a conventional DB with a HANA DB will not result in cluster awareness and the HANA DB for Business Suite may need to remain as a single node implementation for some time.


Reliability and Security have been the subject of previous blog posts and will be reviewed in some detail in an upcoming post.  Clearly, where some level of outages may be tolerable for application servers due to an n+1 architecture, few customers consider outages of a DB server to be acceptable unless they have implemented a parallel cluster and even then, may be mitigated, but still not considered tolerable.  Also, as mentioned above, in order to achieve this, one must deal with the complexity, cost and limitations of a parallel DB.  Since HANA for Business Suite is a single node implementation, at least for the time being, an outage or security intrusion would result in a complete outage of that SAP instance, perhaps more depending on interaction and interfaces between SAP components.  Power Systems has a proven track record among Medium and Large Enterprise SAP customers of delivering the lowest level of both planned and unplanned outages and security vulnerabilities of any open system.


Virtualization and partition mobility may also be important factors to consider.  As all Power partitions are by their very definition “virtualized”, it should be possible to dynamically resize a HANA DB partition, host multiple HANA DB partitions on the same system and even move those partitions around using Live Partition Mobility.  By comparison, an x86 environment lacking VMware or similar virtualization technology could do none of the above.  Though, in theory, SAP might support x86 virtualization at some point for production HANA Business Suites DBs, they don’t currently and there are a host of reasons why they should not which are the same reasons why any production SAP databases should not be hosted on VMware as I discussed in my blog posting:   Lacking x86 virtualization, a customer might conceivably need a DB/HA pair of physical machines for each DB instance compared to potentially a single DB/HA pair for a Power based virtualized environment.


And now a point of pure speculation; with a conventional database, basis administrators and DBAs weigh off the cost/benefit of different levels in a storage hierarchy including main memory, flash and HDDs.  Usually, main memory is sized to contain upwards of 95% of commonly accessed data with flash being used for logs and some hot data files and HDDs for everything else.  For some customers, 30% to 80% of an SAP database is utilized so infrequently that keeping aged items in memory makes little sense and would add cost without any associated benefit.  Unlike conventional DBs, with HANA, there is no choice.  100% of an SAP database must reside in memory with flash used for logs and HDDs used for a copy of the data in memory.  Not only does this mean radically larger amounts of memory must be used but as a DB grows, more memory must be added over time.  Also, more memory means more DIMMS with an associated increase in DIMM failure rates, power consumption and heat dissipation.  Here Power Systems once again shines.  First, IBM offers Power Systems with much larger memory capabilities but also offers Memory on Demand on Power 770 and above systems.  With this, customers can pay for just the memory they need today and incrementally and non-disruptively add more as they need it.  That is not speculation, but the following is.  Power Systems using AIX offers Active Memory Expansion (AME), a unique feature which allows infrequently accessed memory pages to be placed into a compress pool which occupies much less space than uncompressed pages.  AIX then transparently moves pages between uncompressed and compressed pools based on page activity using a hardware accelerator in POWER7+.  In theory, a HANA DB could take advantage of this in an unprecedented way.  Where test with DB2 have shown a 30% to 40% expansion rate (i.e. 10GB of real memory looks like 13GB to 14GB to the application), since potentially far more of a HANA DB would have low use patterns that it may be possible to size the memory of a HANA DB at a small fraction of the actual data size and consequently at a much lower cost plus associated lower rates of DIMM failures, less power and cooling.


If you feel that these potential benefits make sense and that you would like to see a HoP option, it is important that you share this desire with SAP as they are the only ones that can make the decision to support Power.  Sharing your desire does not imply that you are ready to pull the trigger or that you won’t consider all available option, simply that you would like to get informed about SAP’s plans.  In this way, SAP can gauge customer interest and you can have the opportunity to find out which of the above suggested benefits might actually be part of a HoP implementation or even get SAP to consider supporting one or more of them that you consider to be important.  Customers interested in receiving more detailed information on the HANA on Power effort should approach their local SAP Account  Executive in writing, requesting disclosure information on this platform technology effort.

March 14, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments