Does the Intel Sandy Bridge-EP platform bring SAP HANA to the masses?

Today, one of the biggest barriers to large-scale SAP HANA environments is hardware. It’s true that HANA is expensive but it also provides massive value that justifies the cost for the right scenarios.

But for large environments, HANA hardware is huge. Let’s take a typical 8TB IBM HANA appliance (remember you get great compression so this is equivalent to 40TB of Oracle).  But still you need 16x512GB IBM nodes, each of which has a 4U server and 4U storage node. That’s a massive 128U or 4 32U server racks. You need to locate, power and cool this much equipment:

Server Rack

You can buy 1TB EX5 nodes now from IBM but they are really just 2 512GB nodes stitched together with a special connection, so it is not any more dense. HP, Dell, Fujitsu, Hitachi and Cisco all make HANA hardware too, but it’s all roughly the same size.

The reason for this is because SAP HANA is highly optimised for the massively fast Intel Westmere-EX platform, which has really fast memory. The smaller Westmere-EP blade servers don’t have the grunt to run SAP HANA in an optimal way.

Enter Intel Sandy Bridge-EP

There won’t be a new EX platform until some time late 2012 or early 2013 – Intel is in no hurry because the EX platform is highly profitable and fast. But Sandy Bridge EP is out now and it provides some very interesting characteristics.

Westmere-EX. 40 2.4GHz cores, 512GB (4xDDR1333), 2x 6.4GT/sec QPI

Sandy Bridge-EP, 32 2.9GHz cores, 1TB (4xDDR1333), 2x 8GT/sec QPI

What this doesn’t show is the details of this great Real World Technology blog, which shows that for I/O intensive requirements like SAP HANA, Sandy Bridge-EP massively outperforms Westmere-EX. It has faster interconnects and lower memory, plus 50-70% better core performance.

Based on this it should be possible to run 1TB RAM in a (much smaller) single node with the same performance as Westmere-EX. Interested yet?

What will these systems look like?

Well Westmere-EX can take 1.5TB RAM in 48 sockets but you get a performance hit. As a result I think the right system will be a 32 RAM socket 1TB 32-core blade. Based on what I have seen so far in the blade server market, this means 8x1TB blades in a 10U blade chassis – plus roughly the same in shared storage. We are down from 128U to 20U – over 6x more dense.

Plus the cost reduction is extreme because Sandy Bridge-EP is much cheaper. The expensive item in a 1TB HANA node is the Fusion-IO log storage.

Does this pose a problem for the Intel sales engine?

In my opinion, it’s a big yes. SAP HANA is well suited to scale-out platforms and the highly profitable for Intel. With Sandy Bridge-EP you can use fewer, cheaper, less profitable CPUs for the same effect. HANA simply doesn’t need the scale-up that Westmere-EX requires.

What’s more this is big for a customer. A typical 1TB node currently costs around $200k. With Sandy Bridge-EP and the new FusionIO IODrive2 cards, you are looking at bringing this down below the $100k mark.

Interesting times indeed

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8 Responses to Does the Intel Sandy Bridge-EP platform bring SAP HANA to the masses?

  1. Clock$peedy says:

    No, Sandy-Bridge EP won’t work for HANA. You are missing the entire point of the Intel E7 (EX family) versus E5 (EP family). Database-in-memory technologies require extraordinary reliability in the memory subsystem, not just size and speed. Sandy-bridge EP doesn’t provide the memory RAS features that are necessary. Database-in-memory is exactly what E7 was designed for.

    • John Appleby says:

      I’m really confused by what you mean here. Sandy Bridge EP has lower RAS latency than Westmere-EX. It will be faster due to QPI throughput and faster bus, lower latency. Both use registered ECC DDR3.

      Not sure how E7 is more reliable unless you use memory mirroring, which I haven’t seen used for SAP HANA.

  2. Clock$peedy says:

    Here’s a 90 second video that illustrates the relationship between SAP HANA and Intel E7.

  3. Clock$peedy says:

    Hi John,

    By “RAS” I did not mean “Row Address Strobe”, but rather the Intel E7 “Reliability, Availability and Serviceability” features. Here’s the Intel/SAP white paper on the topic.


    Here is a paper that described the E7 Memory RAS features that are not available in any EP procs:

    It should be apparent after reviewing these…you’d have to be crazy to run in-memory-DB on a system without a RAS hardened memory subsystem.

  4. Clock$peedy says:

    One more thought…if you’ve ever wondered why SAP seems to LOVE the IBM EX5 gear so much, consider this quote from the Intel E7 RAS white paper:

    “More advanced ECC technologies can increase reliability. These include IBM® Chipkill™ technology, which can correct and detect more error bits in a single memory word than traditional ECCs. Chipkill can correct up to eight adjacent error bits, and thus can correct a broken four or eight-bit-wide DRAM chip……Although IBM introduced the technology, today other vendors have equivalent technologies…”

    In each generation of new Intel EX platform, IBM is bringing more and more technology down from the mainframe world to enhance x86 reliability, then the other vendors follow. Cool stuff!

  5. It is interesting to read all the story about Ivy Bridge. Indeed it could offer some advantages among others bringing down the price point of the appliances but I have heard from several sources that it does not seem to be the best fit for SAP HANA. So we will need to see what happens. I appreciate the good comments about IBM in the article and the replies people have left. Indeed we do add a lot of technology to the appliances for SAP HANA and they are not just “servers by the Kilo”. Happy to see that the field can see that as well.

  6. John Appleby says:

    Interesting – that could definitely be said of Sandy Bridge but that doesn’t make sense in terms of Ivy Bridge. Ivy Bridge-EX is set to be the next generation platform, as far as I have been told. What makes you think it will not be a good fit?

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