"We began having problems with our SAP system where we had programs terminating because they were out of memory due to the limitations of traditional 32-bit server platforms," says Andre Blumberg, technology and architecture manager for CLP, a provider of electricity power generation, distribution, and retail services to 2.2 million customers in Hong Kong.
Simultaneously, CLP was looking to complete upgrades to several of its SAP implementations and was preparing for a normal five-year replacement cycle for its associated servers.
When CLP began looking at this issue three years ago, Blumberg understood that problems associated with its SAP implementations were tied primarily to memory limitations inherent in the 32-bit processors used in its servers. The 32-bit processors had memory addressability limited to 3 gigabytes, insufficient for many of the SAP applications. Blumberg also knew that 64-bit processors offered virtually unlimited memory addressability. The problem was a lack of alternatives if CLP was going to remain a Windows-based enterprise.
The only readily available alternative was Intel's newest architecture, the 64-bit Itanium. Working with Hewlett-Packard, CLP deployed some test platforms using an Itanium-based server, and experienced good results. "We were actually quite bullish about moving forward with Itanium," Blumberg says.
The problem was cost. Itanium-based servers and associated technology such as disk drives were five to six times greater in price than those used with Intel's Xeon-based servers. Xeon, however, was a 32-bit processor architecture, and Intel had not indicated it had any intentions of moving the processor to a 64-bit implementation.
About two years ago, Advanced Micro Devices began offering dual-core 64-bit Opteron processors, providing a new option that CLP was quick to investigate. Working with HP, AMD, and SAP, CLP was able to get an early version of a four-way server utilizing Opteron processors.
"We put a copy of one of our data mining applications onto a beta version of the platform and were quite amazed at the performance difference," he says. "There was a huge jump."
CLP regularly runs data mining jobs to create simulations of power consumption based on correlations between specific census data, income distribution, or other factors to create targeted marketing campaigns. The simulations could take seven to eight hours on 32-bit systems. With the 64-bit AMD systems the simulations were completed in less than an hour.
With nine major SAP applications in operation and a total of nearly 100 servers, CLP still faced challenges in validating and moving to the AMD-based servers. But those were addressed within several months. The move would include two large data warehouse implementations, the corporate ERP and CRM systems, e-mail, data archiving, and other applications.
Other issues were the availability of a 64-bit operating system from Microsoft in early 2005, and the decision by software providers like Microsoft early on, and SAP eventually, to create new pricing models that based software licenses on the number of sockets in a server, not the number of processor cores.
CLP had used 8-way servers based on single-core processors, requiring eight software licenses. CLP can now use a 4-way dual-core Opteron servers with eight processor cores, but only four sockets. That basically cut the software license cost in half. If software companies maintain a "per-socket" model when quad-core processors hit the market beginning in 2007, the software licensing reduction could be even more pronounced.
The 64-bit and dual-core based servers from HP also let CLP consolidate its infrastructure. CLP can implement its SAP software on nine servers, instead of 16 32-bit, single-core Xeon servers, Blumberg says.
CLP has completed 60% of its move to HP servers based on AMD Opteron processors for its SAP environment and will finish the move over the next 12 months.
Since CLP began its evaluations of 64-bit systems, Intel has moved its x86 processor portfolio to a 64-bit implementation. And next week, Intel is expected to announce the availability of its latest-generation Woodcrest platform for servers, which the company promises will have much improved performance and performance per watt characteristics.
"Woodcrest looks quite good on paper," Blumberg says. "But we are not going to do anything based on the flavor of the day. This is not a fashion show where we change servers every three months. We will certainly continue to make evaluations going forward."