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64-Bit Servers — No Longer Just an Option, but a Necessity, for Enterprises Running SAP

by Dr. Franz-Josef Fritz | SAPinsider

July 1, 2006

by Dr. Franz-Josef Fritz, SAP AG SAPinsider - 2006 (Volume 7), July (Issue 3)

I remember writing my first serious computer program specifically for a 64 KB mainframe computer back in 1970. By 1985, the mainframe computer in the same company had 64 MB of addressable memory! And around 2000, server machines with 64 GB of main memory were not uncommon.

This growth in computing power is fast and it is inevitable. One version of Moore's Law1 states that RAM storage capacity increases at the same rate as processing power. This translates to a 1,000-fold increase of available main memory within 15 years, or a factor-10 growth every 5 years — staggering when you think about it. Yet these expectations of exponential growth have become commonplace in the industry.

Many SAP customers are using this pervasive growth in technology to their advantage and have already enhanced their processing power by making the transition from 32-bit processing to 64-bit technology. SAP has supported 64-bit Unix operating systems for many years now, and 64-bit servers are already a prerequisite for running SAP software on many operating systems.

But for those SAP customers that have not yet made this move — such as those running 32-bit Linux or Microsoft operating systems — the time to prepare for 64-bit is now. With shifting technology, changing industry standards, and the business-critical performance benefits that come from greater processing power, new releases of SAP solutions will exclusively run on 64-bit servers as soon as 2007. The benefits will be significant and measurable: better performance, higher throughput, and better supportability, along with widening possibilities for breakthrough innovations.

Real and Measurable Gains in Processing Power

Let's start with the performance benefits of moving to 64-bit processing.

With 64-bit addressing, the theoretically addressable memory has the unbelievable size of 18 billion GB. With 32-bit processing, the addressable memory is limited to a comparatively paltry 4 GB. Commercially available computers already come with tens or hundreds of gigabytes of main memory today; so while high-end supercomputers already use main memory of 50 TB and more, we are not so far from crossing the 1 TB limit for industry-standard computers.

What will this mean for the speed of transactions in your SAP systems? There is a direct correlation between available main memory and the speed with which certain problems can be solved.

After all, retrieving data from secondary media like hard disks not only requires device and network time, but also significant amounts of processor instructions. As a rule of thumb, accessing data from disk takes 1,000 times longer than accessing data already residing in main memory. This means that more and more use has been made of main memory, for example to:

  • Preload all frequently needed program code

  • Cache all frequently needed data from database tables

  • Maintain index structures for large data sets in main memory

  • Maintain intermediary results of all kinds of transformations and calculations in main memory

For those companies running on Windows- and Linux-based servers, however, many are discovering that 32-bit application servers present increasing challenges to these uses, and a growing number of installations have already hit main memory limits.

Achieving productivity and performance gains and avoiding serious performance problems make 64-bit processing a necessity for SAP solutions and their users. While a switch may seem dramatic, it doesn't require abandoning your previous software investments. (For more on leveraging existing IT assets, see the section "SAP Support of 64-Bit Servers Is Already Well Established.") Technology and hardware innovations ensure that this transition can be a smooth one.

Why 64-Bit Technology Isn't Just for High-End Processing Anymore

For several years now, 64-bit addressing has become standard for high-end processors and the corresponding Unix operating systems. With Intel's Itanium technology, 64-bit support reached the Windows and Linux operating systems some years ago.

But a real breakthrough came with the advent of X86-64 (or "X64" for short) technology. The AMD Opteron and equivalent Intel EM64T technology provided an extension to 64-bit addressing while at the same time allowing companies to run all their existing 32-bit software on the same chip and under the same operating system. These X64 machines are now mainstream in the server market and are offered by all major hardware vendors. And since 2004, the vast majority of newly sold servers are based on 64-bit technology.

SAP Support of 64-Bit Servers Is Already Well Established

As mentioned previously, SAP has long supported 64-bit Unix operating systems, and 64-bit servers are already a prerequisite for running SAP software on servers with HP-UX, AIX, and Solaris operating systems, as well as IBM's OS/400 and zLinux. SAP NetWeaver 2004 and 2004s, and all applications running on SAP NetWeaver, require 64-bit servers for all operating systems — except for Windows and Linux.

With the advent of X64 technology for commodity servers, 64-bit support can now also be offered for Windows and Linux operating systems. Some remaining gaps (related to the availability of Java virtual machines in 64-bit technology) will be closed in the course of 2006.

Even older versions of R/3 can run on these 64-bit operating systems, although only the newer versions can fully leverage the 64-bit addressing capabilities. For the customer, it means that you can continue to run your older systems in accordance with SAP's maintenance policy, but also now take advantage of SAP's investments in high-processing technology, including new innovations for faster analytics and planning capabilities (see sidebar).

Advanced Processing Means Faster Analytics and Planning: Two Powerful Examples from SAP

SAP has made investments over the last 20 years to leverage computing resources (like growing main memory) and to create completely new categories of real-time applications. On the infrastructure side, program and table buffers residing in main memory have contributed to higher scalability and performance of all SAP application systems. For example:

  • SAP LiveCache, which is built on a highly optimized, main-memory-based, object-oriented database management system, has enabled a new generation of planning and optimizing applications that were simply not possible without this new technology.

  • More recently, the BI Accelerator is a real breakthrough in terms of performance and response time for queries on millions or even billions of data records.2 The analytics capabilities with the BI Accelerator would not have been achievable without 64-bit commodity hardware.

Start Planning Your Transition Today

With the advances in processing technology, the performance benefits of 64-bit, and SAP's waning support for 32-bit technology, SAP Service and Support strongly recommends a transition to 64-bit application servers for SAP NetWeaver 2004-based systems.

To assist customers as they plan for this transition, SAP will continue to provide maintenance for released 32-bit software according to the published maintenance strategy, as long as the infrastructure components required by SAP are also maintained by their respective vendors. These components include, in particular, 32-bit operating systems and the databases supported by SAP running on these operating systems. SAP will also continue to provide 32-bit versions of components that end users use on their desktop PCs — such as SAP GUI or SAP NetWeaver Developer Studio.

Plan for the move to 64-bit servers today, and you will be able to leverage the benefits in terms of better performance, higher throughput, and better supportability — and ensure that your infrastructure is well prepared for the functional advances made possible by technological growth.

For more information, see

Some Quick Facts About SAP Platform Support

64-bit servers are currently a prerequisite for running SAP software on servers with HP-UX, AIX, Solaris, OS/400, and zLinux operating systems.

SAP NetWeaver 2004 and 2004s, along with all applications running on SAP NetWeaver, require 64-bit servers for all operating systems — except Windows and Linux.

From 2007 on, new releases of SAP NetWeaver — and SAP applications based on SAP NetWeaver — will no longer be supported on servers running with Windows and Linux 32-bit operating systems.

SAP will continue to provide maintenance for previously released 32-bit software, according to the published maintenance strategy, as long as the infrastructure components required by SAP are also maintained by their respective vendors.

SAP will also continue to provide 32-bit versions of components that are used on desktop PCs by end users — such as SAP GUI or SAP NetWeaver Developer Studio.

1 Most of us associate Moore's Law with the expectation that computing power doubles every 18 months. But some digging reveals that Moore's Law is a bit more nuanced than this. A discussion of the original formulation at's_law also highlights some interesting uses and limitations. While the most common formulation of Moore's Law involves "the doubling of the number of transistors on integrated circuits (a rough measure of computer processing power) every 18 months…, it is also common to cite Moore's Law to refer to the rapidly continuing advance in computing power per unit cost."

2 For more information on the introduction of what later became the BI Accelerator, see the article "Speed, Scalability, and Flexibility All at Once with New High Performance Analytics" in the October-December 2005 issue of SAP Insider (

Dr. Franz-Josef Fritz has a Ph.D. in mathematics and 30 years of experience in all areas of IT. Workflow and business process management have been particular areas of interest for much of his life. He has worked at SAP since 1993 as Program Director and Vice President with responsibility for the Business Process Technology and Internet-Business Framework departments. Since 2003, he has been responsible for several areas within SAP NetWeaver Product Management.

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