Dell gooses HANA appliances, loads up SAP Business Suite

Looks ahead to those Ivy Bridge-EX machines later this year

Enterprise application software powerhouse SAP is beside itself with glee that its HANA in-memory database is driving more business than expected, and server makers like Dell, which are building appliances that meet the very strict – and unmalleable – configurations prescribed to run HANA, are hoping that this turns into a moneymaker for their systems, storage, and switching units.

To that end, Dell on Monday widened its HANA appliance lineup and got one of the first SAP certification to run Business Suite, the core ERP software stack from the German software company, atop HANA on the Dell PowerEdge R910 server.

Being out in front is important because SAP has limited the configurations for HANA appliances to four-socket or eight-socket nodes using "Westmere-EX" Xeon E7 processors running at 2.4GHz. Rather than let server makers make choices for hardware, SAP decided that to be certified to run HANA, server makers have to use identical configurations in server nodes, making it less about the iron and more about the skill with creating and supporting HANA and giving customers an absolutely consistent performance experience.

For small SAP HANA installations, Dell has a two-socket Xeon E7 appliance based on its PowerEdge R910 server with 128GB of memory, a 785GB Fusion-IO PCI-Express flash card, and 1TB of disk storage; the memory can be doubled on this and an extra processor thrown in to handle slightly larger workloads. The base HANA appliance has four Xeon E7 processors, 512GB of memory, the Fusion-IO flash card, and 2TB of disk in the box.

These machines have been shipping for a year. In January of this year, Dell announced so-called "scale-out" HANA configurations that put multiple nodes together to scale up the HANA database, based on the same four-socket R910 server. In this case, the server nodes have a 10Gb/sec Ethernet links between server nodes for clustering, and 8Gb/sec Fibre Channel adapters linking out to Compellent SC8K storage arrays where cold data is stored.

Dell offered clusters with two, four, or eight nodes together for scale-out HANA setups; each SC8K has 48 disks with 28.8TB of storage and 13 SSD drives with 2.6TB, which meets SAP's HANA appliance guidelines.

As part of Monday's announcements at Sapphire, SAP's annual user and partner shindig, Dell got more granular with the scale-out HANA appliances, offering configurations from 1TB to 8TB of capacity with from two to sixteen nodes plus at least one backup node, which is fourteen different configurations. The top-end setup now has sixteen R910 nodes with either one or two backup nodes and four Compellent SC8K arrays.

To run Business Suite atop HANA, you need to double up the main memory and goose the flash capacity, and rather than make customers buy a two-node, eight-socket, 1TB machine to do a test, Dell offers a single-node R910 configured with 1TB of memory and a 1.2TB Fusion-IO flash card. This will allow you to cram a 2TB Business Suite database into main memory, assuming the 2:1 compression ratio that HANA gets, according to SAP, as raw data is compressed as it comes in from disk to flash to main memory.

While this machine is designed to be a test box, Kerry Dietert, senior marketing solution manager for enterprise software at Dell, tells El Reg that for smaller Business Suite shops, this machine might be enough iron to do their work.

Dell is not ready to talk about how well or poorly the HANA appliances are selling, but Dietert said it is taking SAP shops a little while to get their brains wrapped around the HANA in-memory database. "There are a lot of test systems out there, and the scale-out configurations are starting to pop now," he told us.

Along with the expanded HANA appliance range, Dell also announced support for the synchronous replication capability that SAP built into the HANA database, which is used to replicate the HANA database to a clone system in a remote location and fully mirror its operations.

Dietert says that Dell is also working on an asynchronous replication option for the HANA appliances that will make use of features in the Compellent arrays, and they will not require for the remote systems to be an exact duplicate of the production setup. This is slated for later this year.

Dell has also worked with SAP to create a virtualized test and development setup based on its PowerEdge HANA appliance. The SAP HANA rules allow for a server to be configured with VMware's ESXi 5.1 hypervisor and carved up into slices with between 64GB and 384GB of main memory. You have to burn 128GB of memory and some of the processing capacity to run ESXi, according to Dietert, but that still leaves you three nodes in a baby, virtual cluster.

This virty HANA appliance cannot be put into production, technically, and it doesn't have VMotion live migration capability for the virtual machines running HANA instances. But over the long haul, you can envision a virtualization layer being an option to the scale-out HANA appliance setups for yet another variant of disaster recovery and operations management.

Dell is no doubt also eager – as must be SAP – to see the "Ivy Bridge-EX" Xeon E7 processors come to market with more cores and even fatter memories. Intel skipped the "Sandy-Bridge-EX" processor, which was expected sometime late last year, and is jumping straight to the Ivy Bridge-EX sometime in the fourth quarter. Intel is not saying much about the processing capacity of the Xeon E7 v3 chips (if that is what they are to be called), but has said a four-socket machine will sport 12TB of memory, three times the current max for the Xeon E7 v1 chips.

Dell has yet to say what its HANA appliances cost. And the El Reg systems desk frowns on that sort of thing.

Bootnote: Hewlett-Packard wanted to point out that it was the first vendor to get HANA appliances out the door running Business Suite and has been certified for several months. And a spokesperson for HP pointed out that IBM and Fujitsu got out there ahead of Dell, too, with Business Suite certification and then added that HP opened up a center of excellence back in January dedicated to the HANA and Business Suite dynamic duo. ®

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