Intel Nehalem Draws on Wall Street Collaboration

Intel's Nehalem-based 5500 series Xeon microprocessors were developed hand in hand with input from the financial services industry, which relies on heavy computing power in order to generate models and crunch financial data. As Sun Microsystems, Dell, IBM, HP and other server vendors design new products with Xeon microprocessors, a company executive refers to the chip's rollout as the company's most important since the Pentium Pro, an x86 microprocessor originally introduced in 1995.

NEW YORK-Intel developed its Nehalem-based 5500 series Xeon microprocessors with input from the financial industry, whose increasingly complex models of the world's markets have demanded a corresponding rise in computing power, according to Intel executives during a presentation at Nasdaq headquarters off Times Square.

Xeon microprocessors have already been integrated into a number of upcoming server systems from the likes of Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and other system vendors.

"Nehalem is the first processor that Intel has, that was developed directly with hands-on input from the financial services community," Sean Maloney, executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer for Intel, said in a presentation to financial executives, analysts and press on March 31. "You kept telling us power, power, power, and we have listened. We worked very hard on this."

The 45-nanometer , quad-core Xeon 5500 series of chips offers chip-to-chip interconnect, boosted virtualization capabilities, and the ability to dynamically adjust to workloads and conditions. One such feature is Turbo, in which a chip running a single-threaded application can power down everything else in order to crack up the power to a single processor.

"If it's nighttime in Queens, you can turn off all the lights there so Manhattan can burn even brighter," was Maloney's "Turbo" analogy. "It does make a difference to a number of single-threaded applications."

Increased and scalable power is still of interest to Wall Street's IT departments; despite the worldwide economic downturn, widely considered the worst since World War II, financial institutions have been finding that their amount of data and transactions to process is steadily rising.

"The bandwidth requirements keep going up and up," Terry Roche, global head of information management systems at Thomson Reuters, told the audience. "We solved the problem by [introducing] more and more complex architectures driven around horizontal scale, because we have single-threaded architecture."

The next generation of data center processing at Thomson Reuters, he added, would involve multiple threads, "with synchronization between these threads." Intel had been working with the company in thinking out how to build those systems.

Later, Scott Ross, who oversees high-performance computing at UBS, told an audience that Nehalem actually made it possible for the company to boost the performance of its single-threaded applications. This, Ross said, means that UBS does not yet have to undergo the task of rewriting applications to work in a multithreaded environment or make sure the applications work in parallel in order to take advantage of multicore chips.

At the same time the company is touting the benefits of the Nehalem microarchitecture, Intel is trying to sell its latest chip to firms that have undergone a tremendous downward change since the financial markets began to collapse in September with the fall of Bear Stearns. This week, Gartner released a report that claimed IT spending would decrease nearly 4 percent this year compared with 2008.

In a meeting with reporters before the event, Maloney acknowledged that the economy is a factor in buying decisions, but he believes that companies still need to invest even in the down times.

Intel's Nehalem-based microprocessors have drawn a great deal of buzz within the IT industry-along with a few headaches for the company.

Intel and Nvidia have been suing and countersuing over the microarchitecture, with Intel filing a suit on Feb. 16 asking a Delaware judge to block Nvidia from developing chip sets based on it; Nvidia countersued Intel for breach of contract.

Companies such as Rackable Systems have been turning to Nehalem-based microprocessors as a building block for virtualization and cloud-computing data centers, which rely on power-efficient and high-density chips.

"The chip [is] the most important introduction ... for us since the Pentium Pro," Maloney added.

Editor's Note: eWEEK editor Scott Ferguson contributed to this report.