Visitors look at an IBM z13 mainframe computer at the IBM stand at the 2015 CeBIT technology trade fair in Hanover, Germany. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

IBM Stakes POWER8 Claim to SAP Hana Hardware Market

After entering a period of enterprise software détente in 2014 with SAP, IBM today announced a series of POWER8 servers that are optimized for SAP HANA in-memory computing applications.

Doug Balog, general manager of Power Systems at IBM, says that given the price-performance attributes of IBM POWER8 servers IBM expects to be able to best x86 servers as SAP Hana hardware. Intel’s x86 chips, he says, don’t match POWER8 servers in terms of the number of threads per core that can be processed or in the ability to move massive amounts of data quickly through the system.

“We see SAP Hana applications as being a sweet spot of the type of workloads that lend themselves to POWER8 servers,” Balog says. “We’re pretty confident we can compete against Intel in this space.”

IBM plans to make two configuration of the Power Systems Solution Editions for SAP Hana available. The first offering is based on the IBM Power Systems S824 with 24 POWER8 processor cores and up to 1TB of memory. IBM says this system is ideally suited for the SAP Business Warehouse application running on SAP Hana, with databases up to 512GB (compressed) in size.

The second offering is based on the IBM Power Systems E870 with 40 POWER8 cores and up to 2TB of memory. IBM says this platform is ideal for databases up to 1TB (compressed) in size.

While IBM and SAP initially circled each other warily when SAP first launched its in-memory database management system, the two companies have since decided to cooperate around SAP Hana hardware, while continuing to compete at the database level. IBM has made several in-memory computing enhancements to its IBM DB2 database that the company says provides a more comprehensive database environment that spans in-memory and magnetic storage.

In the meantime, HP, Dell, and Lenovo have all brought to market servers based on high-end Intel Xeon processors that are optimized for SAP Hana. While IBM has been slow to bring IBM POWER8 systems to market to counter those offerings, adoption of SAP Hana in production environments has been steady. Most of the use cases of SAP Hana involve SAP applications at this point, and SAP has been making a decided effort to push as much adoption of those applications into cloud computing environments managed by SAP.

But with enterprise IT teams that prefer to run SAP applications on premise, IBM is betting that traditional database strengths of the POWER8 will continue to prevail. In addition, IBM now makes POWER8 servers available via the IBM SoftLayer cloud alongside x86 servers.

Obviously, IBM sees application workloads running on SAP Hana as a critical component of the POWER8 base of database applications. While POWER8 servers have been gaining market share in the RISC/UNIX server market for several years now, the entire category as a whole continues to lose share to x86 servers that have relentlessly expanded the base of application workloads that run on the Intel platform.

Nevertheless, the number of SAP Hana applications being deployed in production is expected to increase significantly in 2015. As such, IBM sees SAP Hana as a growth opportunity in the months and years ahead.

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About the Author

Michael Vizard has been covering enterprise IT issues for more than 25 years, during which time he has been the editorial director for Ziff-Davis enterprise as well as editor-in-chief for CRN and InfoWorld.

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