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POWER8 Boosts SAP HANA Performance

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The consumer apparel market is a tough one in the best of times. Retailers struggle to manage seasonal buying patterns, perpetual stock turnover and the fickle winds of fashion. Those difficulties are amplified to the nth degree for an operation the size of German footwear specialist HR Group, which sells 49 million items annually through 2,500 locations across 20 countries. Simply having a line of high-quality shoes isn’t enough. The company must identify, or better yet predict, changes in demand to ensure each store has the optimal inventory and selection required to satisfy customers.

“It was very important for us for POWER8 to be available for SAP HANA, which has become the clear strategic direction for SAP going forward.”
—Vicente Moranta, IBM director and business line executive, SAP on Power

To accomplish this goal, HR Group switched to an SAP HANA in-memory database implemented on the IBM POWER8* platform. The combination delivered near real-time business analytics that could support everything from forecasting to inventory management and logistics to point-of-sale fraud detection. It worked out so well the company has retired all x86 boxes running SAP HANA and now supports the application solely on Power Systems* servers.

HR Group is not alone. Companies operating in application areas ranging from retail to cloud services to heavy industry to pharmaceuticals view the combination of SAP HANA on POWER8 not just as a tool but also as a strategic advantage.

The In-Memory Boost

Traditional databases are located on dedicated disks external to the server. Read and write operations occur as multiple data-transfer steps that involve caching and synchronization—and latency. The delay is minor but scaled by millions of transactions and events; it means that even the fastest system will get bogged down quickly.

In contrast, in-memory databases are located in the main system memory where the processor can access them through a simple I/O operation. The combination of lower-cost memory and 64-bit OSes has made it feasible to build terabyte-scale in-memory databases to support the most extensive operations. Even access between the database and applications on other servers or in other partitions takes place far more quickly than with a conventional database. Recognizing the value, SAP developed its SAP HANA in-memory database product.

SAP HANA includes the management layer for an in-memory database, complemented by a full suite of analytics tools for targeted verticals, plus a development environment for custom applications. SAP produces the software side of the offering while partnering with hardware vendors to field ready-to-use products.

For many years, SAP HANA was the province of x86 machines and applications. As a result, organizations wishing to use SAP HANA had to run it on x86 hardware, even if they ran the rest of their applications on Power Systems machines. Until recently, the licensing agreements called for SAP HANA to be deployed as an appliance—a dedicated box that could only run a single instance of SAP HANA and couldn’t be split into multiple VMs, even if those other partitions ran different applications and/or OSes. If an organization needed additional SAP HANA instances, it had to buy another box, which consumed more space, more energy, more money for software licensing and more staffing hours to maintain.

IBM has offered Power Systems servers with the Linux* OS since 2001. In 2014, IBM began working with SAP to make SAP HANA available on the platform for testing on POWER7* servers and deployment on POWER8 boxes. “We have a long history of collaboration with SAP,” says Vicente Moranta, IBM director and business line executive, SAP on Power. “The Power Systems platform has been strategic for many of our customers for traditional SAP workloads. It was very important for us for POWER8 to be available for SAP HANA, which has become the clear strategic direction for SAP going forward.”

Kristin Lewotsky is a freelance technology writer based in Amherst, N.H.


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