Intel Launches High-End Xeon Chips for Big Data, Analytics

Intel's new Xeon E7 v2 chips offer up to 15 cores, performance and efficiency gains, and significant improvements in in-memory processing.

Intel is launching the latest versions of its high-end Xeon E7 x86 processors that company officials are aiming at emerging compute- and memory-intensive workloads driven by big data and the Internet of things for industries ranging from health care to manufacturing to financial services.

At the same time, Intel officials are pushing the platform as an alternative to the RISC platforms from the likes of IBM and Oracle, promising significant gains in performance, power efficiency and costs for organizations that migrate from RISC to the x86 architecture.

In a press conference from San Francisco Feb. 18, Diane Bryant, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's Data Center Group called the new Xeon E7 v2 a "dramatic refresh" of the company's high-end x86 server platform, and said the rapidly growing need of businesses to capture, analyze and act on the massive amounts of data being generated plays into the capabilities the chip maker is putting into the new processors.

She also noted that in a recent survey by Intel of CIOs, 82 percent said that having better solutions that could help them sort through the data and make more affective business decisions more quickly is important to them. At the same time, only 5 percent said they had a big data solution in operation.

"That gap presents a wonderful opportunity" for Intel and its partners, Bryant said during the press conference, which was webcast.

Pointing to numbers from IDC, Intel officials expect the big data market to hit $32.4 billion by 2017. During her presentation, Bryant pointed to several examples of how businesses are benefiting from big data, including VISA, which has saved $2 billion in fraud detection due to data analytics,

Intel is offering 20 different configurations of the 22-nanometer Xeon E7 v2 chips—code-named Ivytown—that offer variations in the core count, frequency and memory caches so they can be optimized for a wide range of workloads. The chips, which are made for systems with up to 32 sockets, offer up to 15 cores and up to 1.5 terabytes of memory per socket—three times the capacity of the previous Xeon E7 processors—and speeds up to 3.4GHz. The 15 cores is the most in an Intel chip, with the previous high being 12 cores. Advanced Micro Devices offers 16 cores in some of its Opteron server chips.

The new Intel chips offer twice the performance of the previous generation—they built on the Ivy Bridge architecture and include the chip maker's 3D Tri-Gate transistor technology—more than twice the in-memory processing capabilities and four times the I/O capacity, to enable Intel to keep a balanced architecture that can feed data to the growing number of cores, Bryant said.

The chip's Intel Integrated I/O, Data Direct I/O and support for PCIe help drive the fourfold improvement in I/O, which reduces the bottlenecks and increases capacity for storage and networking connections, she said.

Included in the new chips are reliability and uptime features collected in Intel's Run Sure Technology. The features include what Intel officials are calling memory resilient technologies, such as OS memory on-lining and fine-grain memory mirroring to ensure data integrity and systems that can run reliability over longer periods of time, and resilient system technologies, like MCA recovery execution path and MCA I/O, which enable systems to diagnose what in the past would have been fatal errors and to recover from them. Intel officials first talked about Run Sure Technology at the Intel Developer Forum in China in 2013.