Intel Elevates Its Mainstream x86 Processors into HPC Space

 
 
By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2010-03-30 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Kirk Skaugen, vice president of the Intel architecture group and general manager of its data center group, told a standing-room-only press conference that the new quad-core, six-core and eight-core Xeon 7500 chips represent "the most significant leap in performance, scalability and reliability ever seen from Intel," and he wasn't kidding.

SAN FRANCISCO-When it launched its new Xeon 7500 Nehalem EX server processors here at the swanky Bentley Reserve Conference Center March 30, Intel indicated that it is going both upstream and mainstream at the same time.

Upsteam as in moving its mainline x86 processor into waters yet uncharted-the high-performance computing space-and mainstream, as in providing an industrial-strength processing base for future standard enterprise IT systems.

Kirk Skaugen, vice president of the Intel architecture group and general manager of its data center group, told a standing-room-only conference that the new quad-core, six-core and eight-core Xeon 7500 chips represent "the most significant leap in performance, scalability and reliability ever seen from Intel," and he wasn't kidding.

"This is huge. This is Intel taking its x86 architecture up into the mainframe space," Rob Enderle, principal of The Enderle Group, told eWEEK.

"They've looked at the competition and had positioned Itanium against the opportunity, but now they're taking their mainstream technology and putting it up there. This really takes their volume, high-value part and moves it up there where their RISC competitor was.

"This is the equivalent of taking a Chevy and starting to shoot at Rolls Royces."

It will take awhile for these powerful new chips to work their way into mainstream use in the data center, Enderle said.

"Movement in this space is measured in decades," Enderle said. "These large HPC machines tend to migrate very slowly. Remember, the mainframe was 'killed off' in the 1980s, but it's doing just fine three decades later. This is an environment that moves very, very slowly.

"This is the start of a move. I imagine we'll be talking about this move one or two decades from now."

In the big picture, this doesn't bode well for Intel's HPC-specific Itanium processor line in the future.

Asked directly about Intel's plans for Itanium, Skaugen skirted around the issue a bit, but the word "migrate" did come forth at one point.

"These are two distinctly different architectures," Skaugen said. "There is room for them at this time. That said, 90 percent of our Itanium business is mainframe and HP/UX-based. Intel expects to migrate a lot of those machines to Xeon over time, but for now, it [Itanium] is still a very good business for us."

The Nehalem EX series comprises 11 new Xeon server and storage array processors. Pricing will range from a high of $3,692 for the eight-core, 2.26GHz Xeon X7560 designed for expandable systems of up to eight sockets and beyond to $744 for the quad-core, 1.73GHz Xeon XE6510, which is aimed specifically at dual-processor systems.

Intel also showed some midrange-type Xeon 7500s with four, six and eight cores. Some of them come with Intel's proprietary Turbo Boost and some without; all of them are much cooler-running and energy efficient, fitting into Intel's standard thermal envelope of 95 to 130 watts for multisocket processors.

RAM over clock speeds

Clay Ryder, president and principal analyst with Sageza Group, told eWEEK that the increased amount of RAM these new chips can access is probably more important than improved clock speeds for most enterprises.

"Most companies are running into an issue now that when they go to virtualize their servers to put more people on one machine, it's not that they are running out of compute horsepower, but rather available RAM," Ryder said. "One of the easy ways to address this is to use a system with more RAM on it, so they can put more virtual images on it, and support more and more people.

"The new Xeons have more memory bandwidth and can ultimately support more RAM on the server, which means more virtual servers, more users on a single machine."

There's always a need for speed, "but you don't need to go 300 mph down the Bayshore Freeway," Ryder said. "However, you do need to get everything into the car you're driving. That's the challenge that people are seeing with virtualization.

"When you start bringing dozens or hundreds of people onto a system, that's very different than bringing three or four."

At the launch event, EMC, IBM, Dell, Oracle Sun, NEC, Fujitsu, Hitachi, VMware, Cray, SGI and several other companies showed new hardware and software optimized for the new chips.

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Chris Preimesberger Chris Preimesberger was named Editor-in-Chief of Features & Analysis at eWEEK in November 2011. Previously he served eWEEK as Senior Writer, covering a range of IT sectors that include data center systems, cloud computing, storage, virtualization, green IT, e-discovery and IT governance. His blog, Storage Station, is considered a go-to information source. Chris won a national Folio Award for magazine writing in November 2011 for a cover story on Salesforce.com and CEO-founder Marc Benioff, and he has served as a judge for the SIIA Codie Awards since 2005. In previous IT journalism, Chris was a founding editor of both IT Manager's Journal and DevX.com and was managing editor of Software Development magazine. His diverse resume also includes: sportswriter for the Los Angeles Daily News, covering NCAA and NBA basketball, television critic for the Palo Alto Times Tribune, and Sports Information Director at Stanford University. He has served as a correspondent for The Associated Press, covering Stanford and NCAA tournament basketball, since 1983. He has covered a number of major events, including the 1984 Democratic National Convention, a Presidential press conference at the White House in 1993, the Emmy Awards (three times), two Rose Bowls, the Fiesta Bowl, several NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments, a Formula One Grand Prix auto race, a heavyweight boxing championship bout (Ali vs. Spinks, 1978), and the 1985 Super Bowl. A 1975 graduate of Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., Chris has won more than a dozen regional and national awards for his work. He and his wife, Rebecca, have four children and reside in Redwood City, Calif.Follow on Twitter: editingwhiz
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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