Intel is introducing its next-generation Xeon E5 processors for mainstream servers, unveiling a platform that will continue the chip maker’s efforts to expand the reach of its architecture in the data center beyond traditional servers and enable it to address the challenges raised by such trends as big data, cloud computing and software-defined environments.
Intel officials are unveiling the new Xeon E5-2600 v3 “Grantley” chips at a press event in San Francisco Sept. 8, the day before the company’s annual Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in the same city. A range of server vendors—including Dell, Lenovo, Hewlett-Packard and Cisco Systems—will be incorporating the new chips into their next-generation systems.
The new 22-nanometer processors are based on the “Haswell” architecture, enabling Intel to bring its latest architecture to the product line that accounts for more than three-quarters of the server chips the vendor sells. They will come with as many as 18 cores and will sport DDR4 memory, which will not only improve performance but also help drive down power consumption, an increasingly important metric as organizations look to manage more workloads and process more data while keeping costs down. They also will come with other new features that touch on power management and instruction sets, and will offer as much as 36 percent improvement in power efficiency.
While the Sep. 8 event marks the official launch of the chip, Intel executives in August said that the company already has been selling the Xeon E5-2600 v3 to customers with cloud and high-performance computing (HPC) environments.
Intel is the dominant chip maker in the server space, holding more than 90 percent of the market. However, big data, mobility and the cloud are changing the demands in the data center, and in recent years, the chip maker has been building out its capabilities in such areas as networking, storage and software as it looks to extend the reach of the Intel Architecture.
During a recent workshop at the company’s Hillsboro, Oregon, campus, Intel officials talked about the need to address the increasingly broad range of IT workloads in modern data centers, from enterprise applications and HPC to graphics rendering, big data, networking, edge routing, cold storage and dedicated hosting. Intel, with its expanding portfolio of products and capabilities, wants to make sure that it has the silicon and solutions to address all those areas. The new Xeon E5-2600 v3 illustrates that effort, they said.
“We’re going to put the whole portfolio of assets to work,” Dylan Larson, director of product lines for Intel’s Data Center Group, told a group of journalists and analysts at the workshop.
That will mean ensuring that the processors will be complemented with other Intel technologies for such areas as networking, storage, hyperscale environments and HPC. In addition, the chip maker will offer almost two dozen processors within the Grantley family, with the numbers of cores ranging from four to 18 and a range of frequencies (topping out at 3.5GHz), power consumption (the thermal design power ranges from 55 watts to 145 watts for servers, and 160 watts for workstations), cache and memory. Some with be optimized for speed, while others for memory.
In addition, the officials noted that the chip maker will continue making special processors for particular customers, such as it has done for eBay.
“We’ve been pretty clear over the last 12 to 18 months that we are doing customization solutions for some customers,” Eoin McConnell, product line director for the Xeon E5 family of chips at Intel, said during the workshop. “We will entertain requests from customers” and then decide if pursuing the customization work makes sense for Intel.”
Charles King, principal analyst for Pund-IT Research, said that despite the dominant position it holds within the server chip market, Intel continues to push forward to improve its platforms, as evidence by its drive to shrink the package to 14nm and smaller.
“They’re a remarkably innovative company from the point of view of chip designing, and they’ve managed … to continue to deliver the goods,” King told eWEEK. “The sense if get from Intel is that they’re never satisfied with what they’ve achieved. They’re always looking at the next thing.”
Intel Unveils Xeon E5 ‘Grantley’ for Broad Range of Server Workloads
Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst with Moor Insights and Strategy, said Intel is “doing what they have to do to maintain [its massive market share], which is a good thing.” He noted that data centers now tend to fall into either the scale-up or scale-out categories, or fall somewhere in between, such as with hybrid clouds.
“Grantley fits into all of these,” Moorhead told eWEEK. “I think enterprises are ready.”
Intel doesn’t yet have much in the way of competition in the server space. Advanced Micro Devices earlier this year launched new 12- and 16-core Opterons for such workloads as traditional databases and data analytics, and is looking to its upcoming ARM-based Opteron 1100A “Seattle” chips to help it gain traction in smaller, dense microservers. For its part, ARM officials expect to see systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) from such partners as AMD, Applied Micro, Marvell Technologies and Cavium gather momentum going into 2015 now that they have access to ARM’s 64-bit ARMv8-A architecture.
Intel is covering the entire range of server workloads, from its low-power Atom platform for smaller, dense microservers through to the many-core Xeon Phi processors for the HPC field.
However, Intel is challenged by the new workloads running the data center, and is looking to the strength of its expanded capabilities—from software and chipsets to reference designs and specialty processors for such tasks as communications—to help it meet the demands raised by those workloads.
For example, in the networking realm, Intel at IDF will announce its Open Network Platform Server, a reference architecture for software-defined networking (SDN) and network-functions virtualization (NFV) that not only will feature the Xeon E5-2600 v3 processor, but also Intel’s new “Fortville” Ethernet Controller XL 710 and QuickAssist Adapter 8950 on the hardware side, and such Intel software as its Data Plane Developer Kit (DPDK) set of libraries and drivers, QuickAssist Technology drivers, 10 Gigabit Ethernet and 40GbE drivers, and Service Assurance Administrator. It also will include optimization for the OpenDaylight SDN controller and OpenStack orchestration technology, and will support Fedora 20 KVM.
The new chips also will offer improved power management capabilities. The current “Romley” processors based on the “Ivy Bridge” architecture offered the same “P-states” for all cores, while Grantley will include Per-Core P-states (PCPS), which will enable each individual core to run at its own frequency and voltage. There also is Energy Efficient Turbo Mode, which monitors the individual cores and increase the core frequency only if it is energy-efficient.
The use of DDR4 memory also will help drive down power consumption by 20 to 40 percent while offer twice the bandwidth of DDR3, J.S. Choi, senior manager of memory product planning for Samsung Semiconductor, said during the workshop.
Other capabilities in Grantley include Cache Allocation Monitoring for better decisions around virtualization workload scheduling and migration, Advanced Vector Extensions (AVX) 2.0 instruction sets for improved performance for computationally intensive workloads, and an Integrated Voltage Regulator for more refined management of chip voltage and frequency.