Intel Aims Latest Xeon E7 Chips at Analytics, Real-Time Processing

Intel officials say performance gains and features in the Xeon E7 v3 chips will challenge IBM Power and Oracle SPARC in the high-end server market.

Intel Xeon E7 v3

Intel is launching the latest version of its Xeon E7 high-end server chips at a time when data analytics and other compute-intensive workloads are putting attention back onto powerful scale-up systems that run on four or more processors.

Intel officials introduced the Xeon E7 v3 portfolio during an event in San Francisco May 5, saying new features like more cores and technologies that can speed up data processing will enable the new chips to offer up to six times the performance of their predecessors and up to 12TB of memory, supporting both DDR3 and DDR4 memory. The chips can scale from four to 18 cores, and improve security and reliability through enhanced capabilities in the company's AES-NI, AVX2 and Run Sure Technology.

Executives with the giant chip maker also said they expect the 22-nanometer processors—which sport 5.7 billion transistors—will give organizations an even greater incentive to migrate their high-end workloads from Unix systems to more open and less costly x86 servers, and will accelerate the declining market share of competitors like IBM's Power8 and Oracle's SPARC platforms.

Speaking during the event, Diane Bryant, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's Data Center Group, noted that last year, 2 percent of the servers shipped were RISC-based, and that with the capabilities in the new Xeon E7 v3 processors, that number could shrink. Intel chips own about 94 percent of the market for systems with four or more sockets, while RISC and mainframe systems have about 4.6 percent, Ed Goldman, CTO of the Enterprise IT unit in the Data Center Group, said in March during a workshop in Oregon about the new processors.

The bulk of servers sold are in the two-socket segment, but Goldman said he expects that "technologies like in-memory will get [this part of the market] to grow." Bryant said the performance and economics of the x86 processors will convince businesses to opt for the Xeon E7 v3 chips. She noted that, compared with the Power8 chips, the new Xeons offer 10 times better performance-per-dollar and 85 percent better total cost of ownership. Intel also claims a 60 percent better performance-per-watt.

What the new processors are addressing is the push for greater data analytics capabilities and real-time processing, Bryant said. Massive amounts of data are being created and organizations want to analyze that data in real time to make better business decisions.

"Data is the new currency," she said. "It's the currency of the digital world. … There isn't an institution or business that can't benefit from big data and analytics."

Intel engineers kept that as the backdrop as they worked on the new Xeon E7-8800/4800 v3 chips, which are based on the "Haswell" architecture. They offer 20 percent more cores and threads than the previous version and up to 20 percent more last level cache (which creates up to 39 percent better OLTP database performance), according to officials.

A key new feature is Intel's Transactional Synchronization Extentions (TSX), a technology that streamlines access to shared memory for multi-threaded applications. Without the technology, many threads are left idling while waiting for a thread that has been locked to access the memory. TSX enables multiple threads to access memory at the same time, which improves the performance of multi-threaded workloads running on the chip, Bryant said. SAP has optimized its latest HANA software to take advantage of the TSX feature.