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How to Handle Today's SAP Workloads

Distributed Architecture and Open-Source Software Power Modern Organizations

by Christine Puccio and Dan Woods | SAPinsider, Volume 16, Issue 2

April 1, 2015

SAP has long been a leader in modernizing system architectures and bringing customers to new levels of innovation and efficiency, with the latest chapter in its story being SAP HANA. Learn how a distributed architecture and open-source operating system have contributed to SAP’s technology advancements, and how modern enterprise hardware is a natural fit for securely and reliably running software such as SAP HANA.


From its beginning, SAP has been innovating to help the business world become more efficient. While today SAP produces software innovations that help companies across an array of business processes and industries and is a leader in modernizing architecture, the company has in fact been ready for the modern distributed architecture since the birth of SAP R/3. When it was first creating SAP R/3, SAP began running it natively on Unix, which provided a more flexible alternative to the mainframes that businesses were used to, and this decision resulted in a boom in SAP R/3 deployments. Years later, SAP would then see the benefits of open-source operating systems and begin to leverage Linux, again anticipating a trend among its customers.

The story of SAP R/3’s progress illustrates SAP’s leadership in driving the market and bringing customers to new levels of innovation, with the latest chapter in this story being SAP HANA. Through the journey from the mainframe to Unix, and ultimately to Linux, SAP enterprise customers have found a permanent home on Linux that features both distributed architecture and open-source operating systems.

Ahead of Its Time

SAP pursued distributed architecture before it had even caught on as a concept by embracing a client/server model. This not only moved some of the user interface processing to PCs, but also separated the server computers into tiers, typically several application servers and one database server. This, coupled with the high cost of Unix hardware and primitive networking technologies, meant that SAP solutions ran on a very small number of computers. 

But SAP’s software architecture was capable of even greater distribution. SAP engineers have long isolated internal systems from one another, a key to the software’s timeless appeal — SAP R/3 could run on 10 Unix computers, with each maintaining a separate piece of the solution, although costs and load times made this unrealistic at the time.

Fast forward to today: The fundamental principles of SAP R/3 are still with us. SAP’s business applications run on virtual machines with code written in ABAP or Java. The applications have multiple tiers and specialized systems handle the complexities of the modern world, such as mobility, in-memory computing, the Internet of Things, big data, and so on.

Today, we find a computing landscape dominated by large numbers of small, relatively inexpensive computers working together, using incredibly powerful networking based on open-source software. The high speed and low cost of this network has created the cloud, which allows servers to be located and accessed from virtually anywhere.

All of the applications and ecosystems that have grown up in this era — Google, Amazon, Facebook, and SuccessFactors — use a distributed processing architecture. It is not a stretch to say that SAP’s business applications are far closer to these distributed applications than they are to traditional mainframe applications.

But hardware is not the only innovation driving advances in computing — open-source software is the second of the twin technologies powering distributed architectures.

Distributed Architecture and Open Source

Open-source operating systems power computing grids for today’s leading companies. Many enterprises — including 90% of the Fortune 5001 — use Red Hat Enterprise Linux to achieve this same manner of productization, providing the missing elements and services needed to achieve the full security, scalability, support, and administration required for enterprise computing. In addition, Red Hat supports a large portfolio of open-source solutions for development, integration, storage, and management of cloud infrastructure.

Regardless of an open-source operating system’s “ownership,” updates, patches, and hardened, reliable code remain critical to deployment success, not to mention certifications that ensure compatibility with key applications and infrastructure. At one point, this was a job that most companies had to do for themselves if they were going to use Linux or any other open-source operating system.

Red Hat, however, has created a massive ecosystem that fosters innovation for developers through JBoss and OpenShift and supports private and hybrid cloud environments through OpenStack, taking this burden off of the enterprise so it can focus on what matters to its core business success.

The success of SAP follows a natural progression — beginning with the mainframe, SAP saw a distinct enterprise need with Unix, with mass Unix adoption following the company’s support of the technology. As Unix waned due to issues of cost and scale, SAP saw the potential in commodity hardware running Linux-based platforms, opening up the world of distributed computing for which its software was so well suited (see Figure 1). Today, Linux is the de facto choice for running SAP applications; look no further than SAP HANA, the leading edge of SAP engineering, which runs only on Linux.

SAP HANA Special Report - RedHat

Figure 1 — The advantages of running SAP applications on Linux

The Linux Legacy

From the mainframe to Unix to Linux, SAP enterprise customers have found a permanent home with the twinned innovations of distributed architecture and open-source software. SAP software is a perfect fit for the commoditized nature of modern enterprise hardware, and Red Hat Enterprise Linux provides the platform to reliably and securely run even the most extreme SAP workloads.2

To learn more about running SAP systems on Red Hat Enterprise Linux, visit


1 Red Hat client data and Fortune 500 listing, 2014. [back]
2 For example, in 2014, SAP chose Red Hat Enterprise Linux to run the world’s largest data warehouse, setting a new Guinness World Record. See [back]

An email has been sent to:


Christine Puccio
Christine Puccio

Director, Global SAP Alliance
Red Hat, Inc.

Dan Woods
Dan Woods

CTO and Founder
CITO Research

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