Inside Advanced Scale Challenges|Wednesday, April 26, 2017
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Red Hat Finally Gets A Piece Of The HANA Action 

Thousands of companies have dropped their relational databases and moved to SAP's HANA in-memory database and application platform, and SAP's own Business Suite application stack running atop HANA has broken through 1,000 customers and is one of the fastest-growing products in the company's four decades of operation. SAP has kept very strict control of the HANA hardware and software configurations, and up until now, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server has been the only operating system that customers could use.

But at the SAPPHIRE 2014 conference this week in Orlando, SAP announced that it has been working with commercial Linux distributor Red Hat to get its variant of the Linux platform certified to run the HANA stack. Now SUSE Linux is going to have to work to keep the business, much as it does on supercomputing clusters and on IBM mainframes – two other areas where SUSE Linux has a greater proportion of market share for Linux operating systems than it has in the market at large.

SAP and Red Hat have been partners for ten years, Lars Herrmann, senior director of product and business strategy, reminded EnterpriseTech, and given the dominant share that Red Hat has in commercial Linux, it would seem to have been inevitable that eventually RHEL would be an option side-by-side with SLES 11 SP3.

When HANA was first launched, SAP very much wanted to limit the matrix of hardware and software it needed to support and test because it would be making lots of changes to HANA in a short time as it quickly evolved. Now, with several thousand customers under its belt – including SAP itself and many of the largest companies in the IT sector that adopted SAP applications two decades ago as the ERP wave washed into datacenters and turned homegrown applications into flotsam and jetsam – the company feels it can expand the product matrix for HANA.

"SAP is generally on a path to open up the choices that customers have around HANA, above and beyond hardware," says Herrmann. "There is now operating system choice, and cloud options. HANA is at a point where there is a lot of customer demand for HANA with RHEL. I have no way to quantify this in terms of percentages, but we have definitely been hammered – and so has SAP – asking for RHEL."

This stands to reason given the popularity of Linux. Herrmann says that Linux has pretty much displaced Unix at the database layer for SAP applications, based on the anecdotal evidence Red Hat gets from its sales force and channel partners, and that Linux also has a pretty big chunk of the scale-out portions of the SAP application stack – application servers, gateways, and so forth. In the installed base, the core SAP database machines are a mix of legacy Unix plus Windows Server or Linux in what Herrmann characterized as a pretty even split across the three buckets. Among the two key Linux suppliers that are certified to run third party applications – Canonical is much more focused on homegrown and open source cloudy software with Ubuntu Server – SUSE Linux had a big piece of the SAP base (this was before HANA), but Herrmann says that Red Hat's share has been growing here, too. "Unix is pretty much out of the picture with new installs," he adds.

Because Red Hat already does certification and optimization for SAP's various application suites, getting certified to support HANA was not alien. But RHEL itself has to be tweaked to support HANA, and in fact Red Had has cooked up a variant of the current RHEL 6.5 release, called RHEL for HANA, that does just that. To create this variant, Red Hat has taken a bunch of the core libraries that will be part of the upcoming RHEL 7 release and pulled them back into the RHEL 6.5 version. Then it did a bunch of CPU and cache optimizations to ensure performance levels running HANA. RHEL 7 will make the XFS file system the default one when it ships later this year, but with the HANA variant of RHEL 6.5 XFS is going to be the default instead of ext4. It was easier to backport these needed features from RHEL 7 to RHEL 6.5 than to wait for RHEL 7 and then go through the HANA certification process, says Herrmann. RHEL 7 has its own application binary interface (ABI) stack and runtime environment and supports different hardware as well, so it will require another HANA certification.

At the moment, Red Hat has worked with Cisco Systems, Dell, Fujitsu, IBM, and NEC to get their Xeon E7 machines certified to run HANA atop the tweaked RHEL 6.5. Both standalone scale-up HANA machines (used for transaction processing) and scale-out setups (used for data warehouses and analytics) are available running RHEL.

Machines from Hewlett-Packard have not yet been certified to run HANA on RHEL, including the "Kraken" scale-up HANA machine that was just announced this week at SAPPHIRE. HP machines will no doubt get RHEL 6.5 for HANA certification – the two market share leaders in Linux operation systems and server nodes can't not work together – but neither HP nor Red Hat would comment about when this might happen.

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