Lenovo's EPYC Journey: Doubling Up on AMD-Based ThinkSystems

eWEEK NEWS & TREND ANALYSIS: Under the leadership of CEO and President Dr. Lisa Su, AMD has revitalized its data center ambitions and efforts via its EPYC chips, which have been adopted by numerous system vendors, including Lenovo.

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Most of the time, the enterprise server market moves at glacial speed with changes occurring so incrementally that they are barely visible to the naked eye. But occasionally a technological advancement or a market rebalancing sparks a massive shift that causes people to rethink long-held assumptions. This dynamic is especially apparent in x86-based systems, where Intel’s market dominance has been so overwhelming that effective challenges seldom arise.

But “seldom” doesn’t means “never,” even for Intel with AMD being its most legitimate challenger. Under the leadership of CEO and President Dr. Lisa Su, the company has revitalized its data center ambitions and efforts via its EPYC chips, which have been adopted by numerous system vendors, including Lenovo. The new Lenovo two-socket ThinkSystem SR645 and SR665 solutions announced this week illustrate how the company, with AMD’s assistance, is making the server market more dynamic, interesting and unpredictable than it has been for some time. 

EPYC Choices, Lenovo-Style

So, what’s the story with these newest EPYC-based Lenovo solutions? At one level, the two-socket ThinkSystem SR645 and SR665 literally double up on the initial AMD-powered servers the company introduced last August, the single-socket ThinkSystem SR635 (1U) and SR655 (2U)

Those solutions both incorporated one EPYC 7002 64-core processor and up to 2TB of memory, along with support for storage (3.5-inch, 2.5-inch and NVMe drives) and optional GPUs in accord with their size. While the SR635 was tuned for virtualized and hybrid workloads, the SR655 was optimized for storage-rich solutions, like VDI (virtual desktop infrastructures) and SDS (software-defined storage). 

If those initial ThinkSystem solutions were designed for flexibility, it’s accurate to say that the new two-socket systems are built for performance. Along with incorporating two second-gen EPYC 7002 processors (for a combined 128 cores per system), the SR645 and SR665 support next-gen PCIe 4, which doubles I/O bandwidth. The new systems also offer increased GPU support (up to eight 75W NVIDIA T4s graphics cards). 

As a result of these significant performance enhancements, the ThinkSystem SR645 and SR665 can be configured to support faster transaction processing, greater grid computing capacity, muscular high-performance computing projects, and highly efficient video analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) workloads. 

The new systems’ enhanced capabilities also deliver significant business value. For example, Lenovo noted that the PCIe Gen4 features can deliver twice the bandwidth and faster memory speed increase performance by 45%, making the new systems excellent solutions for highly virtualized environments and other demanding workloads. 

Additionally, customers interested in transaction and business application performance should note that the new ThinkSystem solutions have set a new world record in the SAP SD-Tier 2 benchmark. Finally, Lenovo reports that the new solutions are among the market’s most power efficient two-socket systems, delivering lower system TCO, which, in turn, reduces operating costs and increases ROI. 

Final Analysis

Some critics continue to ding AMD or suggest that the company will eventually, once again, snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. But closer analysis reveals that Su and her leadership team not only know how to play, they know how to win. That was clearly apparent in initial reviews of second-gen EPYC, which showed the chips up to 50% to 100% higher performance at a 40% lower price than equivalent Intel silicon. 

Such disparities are never permanent since Intel’s continual development model helps to ensure that technical shortcomings are short-lived. Plus, the company has a significant amount of wiggle room when it comes to pricing and margins. However, recent shifts in the server market could prolong or even increase AMD’s advantage. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing businesses of every sort to re-evaluate their on-premises data center investments, resulting in many shifting workloads to flexibly priced public cloud services. Those companies and the cloud platforms that serve them should be attracted to the price and performance capabilities offered by Lenovo’s SR645 and SR665. 

Overall, Lenovo’s new solutions qualify as highly innovative solutions that take full advantage of its partners’ achievements. While the new ThinkSystem SR645 and SR665 servers double up the size and capabilities of Lenovo’s EPYC-based server portfolio, the company is also ensuring that customers will enjoy the full benefits and value of innovations developed by itself and AMD. 

However, the ThinkSystem SR645 and SR665 are also arriving at a point when data center customers need to get the best compute bang for their data center bucks. In other words, there couldn’t be a better time for Lenovo’s new ThinkSystem offerings to hit the market.

Charles King is a principal analyst at PUND-IT and a regular contributor to eWEEK.  © 2019 Pund-IT, Inc. All rights reserved.