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Helping Organizations Succeed

IBM Ecosystem Partners help Power Systems clients speed the migration to SAP HANA.

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Addressing changing business demands requires deep insights into customer needs, buying patterns, supply chain and the overall operations of the enterprise. 

Businesses are looking for ways to simplify their operations and gain real-time insights. For this reason, they’re considering migrating their existing SAP ERP applications to S/4HANA business suite. S/4HANA combines ERP transaction processing and real-time analytics in a single platform and runs on the in-memory database SAP HANA (which is designed for speed and efficiency). The Power Systems platform coupled with the SAP HANA ecosystem helps organizations accelerate their migration to S/4HANA.

Diving Into the SAP HANA Database

The benefits of S/4HANA begins with the SAP HANA database. Traditional databases are row-based. They represent each document as a string of dozens, if not hundreds, of fields such as dimensions, quantities and prices. Any time a field changes—for example, when a customer orders two cases of motor oil rather than one—the entire row must be replicated to preserve a record of the modification. Once you add the header information, a single document can require as many as 40 row-based tables, all of which must be stored and interlocked to maintain consistency. To streamline operation, the database defines indices that simplify access of specific slices of the data. Larger and more complex databases are more likely to lock up or simply slow down. SAP HANA addresses this challenge.

In contrast to the conventional approach, SAP HANA treats each field as its own column rather than as an inextricable part of a row. When a change is made to a specific field in a row, that change is recorded as an insertion to the field’s column. There’s no need to replicate the entire row.

Because of the sprawling, complex structure, traditional databases must be stored in the server hard drive or in a dedicated storage-area network. This slows operations even more as it introduces I/O latency-related challenges. The columnar structure of SAP HANA reduces the overall size of the database that’s stored in memory. This dramatically reduces the time needed to read and write data, and results in a smaller and faster database. 

Although SAP HANA can be used with a variety of ISV applications, there’s currently focus on S/4HANA. Because SAP is ending support on all other ERP applications by 2027, migration is becoming increasingly important. Fortunately, IBM has fostered a robust and diverse SAP HANA ecosystem that stands ready to help.

Working Together to  Help Clients Succeed

Every enterprise has a different business model and a different level of readiness, so it follows that individual migration plans will be required as well. Enterprises can migrate stepwise, first changing from their current database to SAP HANA, and then upgrading to S/4HANA. ERP software without significant customization may be suitable for a simple upgrade to S/4HANA, while existing applications with large amounts of customization or in need of modernization may be best tackled with a greenfield implementation in which S/4HANA is implemented from scratch. An experienced partner can guide customers through the evaluation process to craft a strategy that will best achieve their goals.

“We run what we call discovery workshops where our trained business partners work with the clients and help them on how to perform the sizing, share the possible deployment options and help them understand the simplification of migration process,” says Asim Khan, program director, product offering management, SAP HANA on POWER®. “It has been quite successful because we’ve established best practices. We have well defined collateral and IBM Redbooks® publications available that really help partners and clients perform the migration to SAP HANA on Power Systems.”

The switch to S/4HANA is more complex than the database migration (even as an upgrade) and typically affects hardware and business processes. Working with IBM, ecosystem partners have a better understanding of the platform and how to optimize it for S/4HANA.

From a time perspective, provisioning is a critical step in implementation. Here, the IBM team works closely with partners. “If it takes less time to provision the environment for S/4HANA, it helps them on the project plan of execution,” says Khan. “The infrastructure enables them to simplify and provision the environments faster.”

“Power Systems servers can run SAP HANA 2.0 using little endian Linux, just like x86. We offer greater flexibility, greater resiliency, lower total cost of ownership and a deep ecosystem ready to help clients meet their goals.”
Asim Khan, program director, product offering management, SAP HANA on POWER

Advantages of the Power Systems Platform

Database design is just the start. As with all enterprise computing, infrastructure matters. The Power Systems platform delivers cost and performance advantages for companies running SAP HANA with applications from ISVs from the IBM SAP HANA ecosystem. “For data-intensive applications, our ISV partners and their customers generally see a significant performance advantage running on Power Systems servers. SAP HANA is no different, where we see up to 1.8x more memory bandwidth when compared to an x86 infrastructure,” says Gina King, IBM Cognitive Systems, director, Global Software Ecosystem and Alliances. 

Perhaps just as important, each Power Systems server can run multiple instances of SAP HANA, each in its own VM. This is a far cry from the early days of SAP HANA on x86 boxes, which required SAP HANA instances to be run as dedicated appliances, with only one instance per box. Khan points to an automotive supplier currently running nearly 100 SAP HANA VMs on a single Power Systems server.

Having a good understanding of the Power Systems platform through association with IBM also provides an assist. Organizations running S/4HANA need resiliency and flexibility to manage operations. Scale-up Power Systems servers are available with up to 64 TB of memory. If the database size becomes larger or smaller in future than projected, the LPARs can be reconfigured to suit. “With the help of virtualization, they could just change the VM sizes,” says Khan. “Had they bought the x86 hardware, they would have had to go to finance and get approval for an upgrade or for a new box to cater for the changes in the database size requirements.”

To maximize flexibility, Power Systems servers are available with both SUSE and Red Hat® Enterprise Linux® distributions. “There is a misconception that we’re running SAP HANA on AIX®, so it requires a different skill set, but that’s wrong,” says Khan. “Power Systems servers can run SAP HANA 2.0 using little endian Linux, just like x86. We offer greater flexibility, greater resiliency, lower total cost of ownership and a deep ecosystem ready to help clients meet their goals.” 

Making a Migration Plan

The original deadline for conversion to S/4HANA was 2025. SAP recently extended that deadline to 2027, with a pledge to provide support for the software through 2040. This gives ISVs in the larger SAP HANA ecosystem time to ensure that their applications support S/4HANA. That said, clients should consider it an opportunity to complete their transition rather than an invitation to further delay. 

The IBM SAP HANA ecosystem exists to support the migration, but the challenges should be taken seriously, Khan says. “IBM and partners have already helped thousands of clients around the world on this journey. Clients that haven’t moved yet should immediately start planning and engage IBM teams to help simplify and accelerate the journey to S/4HANA.”

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Accelerating Open-Source Innovation 

The benefits of open source are obvious: lower costs, no vendor lock-in, flexibility, transparency and better security. Linux® on POWER® combines open source and proprietary technologies to deliver the best SAP HANA solution for enterprise customers.

Linux is always changing with new technologies being “up-streamed” to new kernel releases. Enterprise companies rely on Linux distributions to incorporate those new Linux kernel technologies into a stable OS.

Linux distributions have different approaches to incorporate up-stream changes. Some keep the kernel release (e.g., 4.12 or 5.3) for the entire life of a version and aggressively back port patches from later kernel releases. Other distributions periodically rebase their OSes to a new Linux kernel. For example, SLES 15 Service Pack 0 was built on the latest stable Linux kernel available at the time, version 4.12. Service Pack 1 stayed with 4,12, but Service Pack 2 will upgrade to the 5.3 Linux kernel. 

Periodically rebasing to a new Linux kernel provides a balance between stability and exploitation of new kernel features, and is the reason SUSE Linux is often the first Linux distribution to fully exploit Power Systems servers. Features like running in POWER9TM mode, enabling PowerVM® Virtual Persistent Memory and shared processor pool support were all enabled by moving to later kernel levels. 

SUSE and IBM will continue to drive innovation into the Linux community, ensuring that IBM Power Systems servers will be among the fastest, most scalable and most reliable platforms for SAP HANA.

Learn more about SUSE support for SAP HANA in the SUSE SAP HANA User Group

Jay Kueumcke

Global product manager, SUSE Linux on Power

Jay is an IBM Champion for Power Systems and the global product manager for SUSE Linux on Power.

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