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Intel pushes savings with new 10-core server chips

Xeon E7 chips 'cut maintenance and electric bills'

Intel has unveiled the Xeon E7 series of chips with 10 cores, which the company said could help cut power and maintenance costs in data centres while adding more processing power.

The Xeon E7 chips, formerly code-named Westmere-EX, will be 40 percent faster than their predecessors, the Xeon 7500 chips, said Kirk Skaugen, vice-president and general manager of Intel's Data Center Group. The Xeon 7500 chips are eight-core processors, launched last year.

Intel is targeting the Xeon E7 chips at high-end servers running data-intensive applications such as databases and ERP (enterprise resource planning) applications. The processors will be made using the 32nm process, and will be based on the Westmere microarchitecture.

'Power efficiency benefits'

A single Xeon E7 server will be able to replace 18 dual-core servers, which would help consolidate the number of servers in data centres, Skaugen said. The E7 chips also have power-efficiency features, such as a mechanism to shut down idle processing cores, to reduce power consumption. Features like support for low-voltage memory could also help reduce the power drawn by servers.

Customers will be able to build 256-way servers based on the processors, Skaugen said. A four-socket server with an E7 chip will be able to support up to 2TB of memory, which is double that of the older Xeon 7500 processors. The company is offering 10 new 10-core chips, including the E7-8870, E7-4870 and E7-2870, which operate at speeds of up to 2.4GHz and consume up to 130 watts. A 4U server will be able to accommodate up to 64 memory slots.

Skaugen said Intel had 60 server design wins for the new processors, with companies like Dell and IBM immediately launching new servers.

Dell's new PowerEdge servers with Xeon E7 chips deliver up to a 49 percent improvement in performance-per-watt with low-voltage memory compared to the previous generation of Xeon eight-core chips, said Brian Payne, executive director of Dell's PowerEdge server line. The overall energy consumption at a server node level is lower, which helps cut energy costs.

The chip also includes improved RAS (reliability, availability and serviceability) features that help servers maintain high uptime, Payne said. Dell's new PowerEdge servers also include new system management tools that aid in reducing server maintenance costs.

Some RAS features found in E7 chips can also be found in Intel's Itanium high-end server chips, which are based on a different instruction set. The E7 in some cases can deliver better performance than Itanium chips, and could be an alternative, depending on the operating system, Skaugen said. Many mainframe OSes, such as HP's Unix-based HP-UX OS, run on Itanium but not the x86 architecture. However, for OSes like Windows and Red Hat Linux, companies can choose x86 servers.

But Intel's Itanium chip is at a crossroads as the company aggressively pushes x86 into IT infrastructures. Oracle said late last month it would stop further software development for Itanium-based servers, saying Intel's strategic focus was on x86 and that Itanium was nearing the end of its life. Microsoft and Red Hat have already announced the end of Itanium support. In response to Oracle's announcement, Intel reiterated its support for Itanium, saying it had future chips based on the architecture in its road map.

Skaugen emphasised the performance of Oracle's 11g Release 2 database on Xeon E7 chips, saying the AES-NI (Advanced Encryption Standard Instructions) on the chips showed a 10 times speedup in data encryption.

Customers show interest

A number of customers also see potential benefits in migrating to Xeon E7 chips.

NCH Corp, a supplier of industrial maintenance products, will migrate an Oracle installation from IBM's Power servers to Intel's Westmere E7 over the next few years, said David Kennedy, director of infrastructure at NCH.

The E7 servers will provide a performance improvement, and there are savings related to annual server maintenance, Kennedy said.

Texas Instruments over the past few years has migrated Oracle database software performing a variety of functions from RISC-based servers to Xeon chips, and will continue in the same vein with the new E7 chips, said Vishal Mehra, a senior member of technology staff at the company.

The company already runs multiple instances of ERP, analytics, manufacturing and Oracle database software on Xeon, and over the next few years plans to move to SAP business management software on E7 servers. TI is moving to Xeon because it sees a clear upgrade path, Mehra said.

"The RISC platform wasn't keeping up with the pent-up demand," Mehra said.

The new servers help scale down the number of processing nodes, which has helped reduce the cost of acquiring hardware. The E7 also has advanced memory-handling capabilities, Mehra said.

Intel also announced the Xeon E3-1200 family of chips for entry-level servers, which the company calls microservers. The processors are based on the new Sandy Bridge microarchitecture and are designed for business applications such as storage and backup applications.

See also: Intel to ship 10-core Xeon processor in first half of 2011


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