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SAP cloaks HANA in terabyte dress for VMware's dance hall

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Updated VMware and SAP have partnered to let a virtualized breed of the in-memory data muncher HANA run on customer-owned hardware as well as in the public cloud.

The deal was announced by the two companies on Monday, and means that companies running vSphere 5.5 have another way to access SAP's in-memory data fiddler.

When running on VMware, HANA can handle up to 1TB of data compared with 64GB a year ago, and 32 processors within a VMware system. VMware says this gives operational and capital-expenditure savings of 60 and 70 per cent, compared with running it on un-virtualized hardware.

"Fundamentally it's about managing HANA like any other workload in your data center. You can deploy a virtualized HANA within minutes," explained VMware's senior director for International Software Vendor Alliances, in a chat with The Register. "Now, customers can virtualize the entire SAP landscape within HANA."

HANA was launched by SAP in 2010 as one of the key technologies for the companies suite of data management and analysis products.

Since then, HANA has grown from an appliance-based software system, into a tool that can be found in a variety of third-party hardware bundles, as a fully virtualized software instance, as something that can exchange data with systems like Hadoop, and – most recently – on SAP's own public cloud, which competes with rivals like Amazon Web Services.

However, as HANA is an in-memory analysis system it would seem to take a performance hit by being run on top of a hypervisor that floats on underlying hardware.

According to SAP, this is not the case.

"We're happy to say that in the tests we have seen, by and large if the customer follows the deployment guidance – one single VM in the preconfigured and certified appliance – the performance is very close to the bare metal," said SAP's head of data management, Ken Tsai, when we asked about this. "The performance tradeoff is not significant."

Though the technology scales up to 1TB, SAP said it is working with VMware to expand this.

"The 1TB limit and 32 cores (64 virtual cores) are limitations of VMware, not HANA, for reasons that VMware today assumes a memory+disk model of processing," explained Dan Lahl, SAP's vice president of database and technology marketing, in an email with El Reg. "Since HANA is an in-memory system that optimizes both memory and cores, this bumps up against the limits of VMware's offering today. We are working with VMware to expand the joint capabilities of HANA and vSphere in many areas – the memory and core limitation being just two."

The SAP and VMware executives were in high spirits when we spoke to them [Eell, as high spirited as one gets when talking about in-memory computing—Ed.], but SAP's HANA division is not without trouble: on Sunday the company abruptly announced that SAP's big boss, SAP's executive board member for products and innovation Dr. Vishal Sikka, had resigned for personal reasons.

Update:

After this story was published, SAP got in touch to clarify what Tsai meant when he said "the performance tradeoff is not significant".

When running SAP HANA on top of VMware the vast majority of use cases see a performance degradation of "less than 12 percent" when compared with traditional bare metal workloads, explained SAP HANA product manager Arne Arnold in a chat with El Reg.

"A lot of customers have been saying 'just give us virtualization' and leave it to us to see what the performance is," she explained. "We felt the majority of test cases being less than 12 percent is the point where we are confident we have a good market [opportunity]."

This "performance degradation" refers to the behavior of HANA at a low-level, so in some cases it may not interfere with end applications, she explained, and in other cases it might.

Over time, SAP hopes to work with customers and VMware to determine exactly which applications can be run on HANA. "Ideally I think where we need to evolve into is test our customers' specific workloads, like ERP," Tsai said.

For now, SAP thinks running HANA on VMware is, mostly, a good idea due to the flexibility and easy of administration admins get with virtualization.

"In the majority of test cases you are fine," Arnold said. ®

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