IBM POWER and SAP HANA: A Powerful and Effective Combination

As organizations looks for differentiators to improve efficiency and improve cost effectiveness, the combination of IBM Power Systems and SAP HANA can provide a potent platform with a significant return on investment.

Why IBM Power Systems?

IBM Power Systems is a family of server computers that are based on IBM’s POWER processors. The POWER processor is actually a series of high-performance microprocessors from IBM, all called POWER followed by a number designating its generation. For example, POWER1, POWER2, POWER3 and so forth up to the latest POWER10, which was announced in mid-August 2020 and is scheduled for availability in 2021.

What makes IBM Power Systems different than typical x86 architecture servers is the RISC, or Reduced Instruction Set Computer, architecture based on IBM research that began in the 1970s. POWER microprocessors were designed specifically for servers and their intrinsic processing requirements.

In contrast, x86 CPUs were initially built for and catered to the personal computer market. They are designed as general-purpose processors that can be used for a variety of workloads, even for home PCs. As the processing power of the x86 microprocessors advanced over time, they were adapted for usage in servers.

So, looking at the two alternatives today, both x86 and IBM Power Systems seem to be competitive architectures for servers running enterprise workloads. However, POWER microprocessors were designed to services high-performance enterprise workloads, such as database management systems, transaction processing and ERP systems. Although x86 microprocessors can be used for those type of workloads, too, it is not typically as efficient because of its general-purpose design, as opposed to the POWER processors specific design for enterprise computing.

IBM Power Systems deliver simultaneous multithreading (SMT), a technique for improving the overall efficiency of CPUs permitting multiple independent threads to execute and utilize the resources of the processor architecture. With IBM Power Systems SMT8 every processor can run eight threads in parallel, which is about 4 times higher than its competitors. Symmetric multithreading helps to mask memory latency, and increase efficiency and throughput of computations.

Virtualization is another differentiator for POWER, because they were built to support virtualization from the get-go. POWER features a built-in hypervisor that operates very efficiently. On the other hand, x86 was not originally designed for virtualization, which means you need to use a third-party hypervisor (e.g. VMware),

Scalability is another issue where IBM POWER excels versus x86. Although you can scale both, x86 scaling typically requires adding more servers. With POWER, the chips themselves are designed to scale seamlessly without having to add hardware (although you can if you so desire).

The bottom line is that the POWER architecture provides benefits for modern workloads, such as for big data analytics and Artificial intelligence (AI). Which brings us to SAP HANA.


SAP HANA is an in-memory database management system that delivers high-speed data access. It can offer efficient, high performance data access due to its usage of memory and its storage of data in column-based tables as opposed to the row-based tables of a traditional SQL DBMS. Such a columnar structure can often deliver faster performance when queries only need to access certain sets of columns.

SAP HANA provides native capabilities for machine learning, spatial processing, graph, streaming analytics, time series, text analytics/search, and cognitive services all within the same platform. As such, it is ideal for implementing modern next-generation Big Data, IoT, translytical, and advanced analytics applications. 

SAP S/4HANA is the latest iteration of the SAP ERP system that uses SAP HANA as the DBMS, instead of requiring a third-party DBMS (such as Oracle or Db2). It is a completely revamped version of their ERP system.

Organizations implement SAP HANA as both a standalone, highly-efficient database system, and also as part of the SAP S/4HANA ERP environment. And for both of these HANA applications, IBM Power Systems is the ideal hardware for ensuring optimal performance, flexibility, and versatility.


IBM Power Systems are particularly good at powering large computing workloads. Their ability to take advantage of large amounts of system memory and to be logically partitioned make them ideal for implementing SAP HANA.

If you need something that can take advantage of 64 TB of memory on board and can host up to 16 production SAP HANA LPARs, the high-end POWER E980 is a good choice. Earlier this year (2020), SAP announced support of Virtual Persistent Memory on IBM Power Systems for SAP HANA workloads. What this means is that using the PowerVM hypervisor located on the firmware it is possible to support up to 24TB for each LPAR. Virtual Persistent Memory is available only on IBM Power Systems for SAP HANA.

There are many benefits that can accrue after adopting Virtual Persistent Memory on IBM Power Systems and SAP HANA. For example, it provides faster restart and faster shutdown processing, which expands the outage window for change control, thereby potentially enabling more work to be done during the outage. Alternatively, the duration of the change control window may be able to be shrunk, thereby reducing the outage to make changes.

And let’s not forget to mention the SMT8 capability of IBM Power Systems, which will improve cache per core, thereby improving SAP HANA performance on a Power machine as compared with other machines.

Of course, there are also midrange IBM Power Systems such as the E950 that can be used if your requirements are not at the high-end.


Of course, a server can be powerful and efficient, but if it is not also cost-effective it will be difficult for organizations to adopt it. Forrester Research conducted a three-year financial impact study and concluded that IBM Power Systems for SAP HANA delivers a cost-effective solution.

The study required multiple customer interviews and data aggregation, which resulted in Forrester determining the following benefits of running SAP HANA on IBM Power Systems as opposed to other platforms:

  • Avoided cost of system downtime (36%) – the composite organization avoided 4 hours of planned and unplanned downtime per month
  • Reduced cost of power and cooling (4%) – the composite organization saved nearly 438,000 KwH of power per year
  • Avoided cost of alternate server architecture (49%) – other architectures required as many as 20 systems, as compared to an architecture with only 3 IBM Power Systems servers
  • Reduced cost of managing and maintaining infrastructure (11%) – System administrators saved 60% of their productivity due to a reduced management and maintenance burden

The net/net shows a 137% return on investment (ROI) with a 7 month payback.

It is also important to note that IBM offers subscription-based licensing for Power Systems where you pay only for what you use. With this flexible capacity on demand option your organization can stop overpaying for resources you do not use. A metering system is used to determine your usage and you will be billed accordingly, instead of paying for the entire capacity up-front.

Use Cases

There are many examples of customers deploying IBM Power Systems to achieve substantial benefits and returns on their investment.

One example of using IBM Power Systems to reduce footprint and simplify its infrastructure is Würth Group. Located in Germany, Würth Group is a worldwide wholesaler of fasteners and tools with approximately 120,000 different products. The company deployed IBM Power Systems and was able to slim down the number of physical servers and SAP HANA instances from seven to one, an 86% reduction cutting power consumption and operating costs.

Danish Defence has implemented SAP HANA on IBM Power Systems to support military administration and operations with rapid, reliable reporting. As a result, they achieved up to 50% faster system response times enabling employees to work more productively. Additionally, processes completed 4 hours ahead of schedule meaning that reports are always available at the start of each day. And at the same time, they achieved a 60% reduction in in storage footprint, thereby reducing power requirements and cooling costs.

And perhaps most-telling, SAP themselves have replaced their existing SAP HANA HEC platform with the IBM POWER9. According to Christoph Herman, SVP and Head of SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud, “SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud on IBM Power Systems will help clients unlock the full value of SAP HANA in the cloud, with the possibility of enhancing the scalability and availability of mission-critical SAP applications while moving workloads to SAP HANA and lowering TCO.”


Whether implementing on-premises, in the cloud, or as part of a hybrid multicloud environment, the combination of IBM Power Systems and SAP HANA can deliver a high performance, cost-effective, environment for your ERP and other workloads.


I'm a data management strategist, researcher, and consultant with over three decades of experience in all facets of database systems development and implementation.
This entry was posted in analytics, Big Data, business planning, data, DBMS, ERP, IBM, In-Memory, optimization, performance, SAP HANA and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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