First ARM Benchmarks – The Race Is On

This week, sandwiched between the annual Structure Big Data conference and the International Supercomputing show in Hamburg, Germany, ARM startup and HP partner Calxeda also found time to release the first well-documented x86 versus ARM benchmarks. The results, shown below, are very positive — while there are some caveats that we need to note, the first generation ARM SOCs seem to deliver on their basic promise of much better performance per Watt.

The benchmark, which compares anew ARM SOC from Calxeda to a Sandy Bridge (not Ivy Bridge) low-end Xeon server with the same number of cores, shows that the Xeon CPU, while delivering more performance, has a very large deficit in workload per Watt, which is one of the key value propositions of the ARM community. Benchmark details*:

Interpreting The Benchmark

First of all, this is a single benchmark, and its relevance is limited to its domain — lightweight web serving on a small web server with 1 Gb network. We cannot interpolate results based on a faster network configuration (although my guess is that this configuration is bottlenecked by the network, and a faster Xeon would not make much difference), nor can we extend the interpretation to other workloads. But within the benchmark domain, this early comparison tells us some important things:

  • Even with the current V7 32-bit architecture, the ARM CPU does indeed deliver impressive power efficiency.
  • Absolute performance, especially considering the huge difference in clock speed, is higher than most of us expected.
  • As a basic proof point, this benchmark succeeds as a proof of concept — AMR servers are indeed in the ballpark versus their initial promises.
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DCIM — Updates And Trends

Only a few months since I authored Forrester’s "Market Overview: Data Center Infrastructure Management Solutions," significant changes merit some additional commentary.

Vendor Drama

The major vendor drama of the “season” is the continued evolution of Schneider and Emerson’s DCIM product rollout. Since Schneider’s worldwide analyst conference in Paris last week, we now have pretty good visibility into both major vendors' strategy and products. In a nutshell, we have two very large players, both with large installed bases of data center customers, and both selling a vision of an integrated modular DCIM framework. More importantly it appears that both vendors can deliver on this promise. That is the good news. The bad news is that their offerings are highly overlapped, and for most potential customers the choice will be a difficult one. My working theory is that whoever has the largest footprint of equipment will have an advantage, and that a lot depends on the relative execution of their field marketing and sales organizations as both companies rush to turn 1000s of salespeople and partners loose on the world with these products. This will be a classic market share play, with the smart strategy being to sacrifice margin for market share, since DCIM solutions have a high probability of pulling through services, and usually involve some annuity revenue stream from support and update fees.

How Big Is The Market?

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HP Rolls Out BladeSystem Upgrades – Significant Improvements Aim To Fend Off IBM And Cisco

Overview

Earlier this week at its Discover customer event, HP announced a significant set of improvements to its already successful c-Class BladeSystem product line, which, despite continuing competitive pressure from IBM and the entry of Cisco into the market three years ago, still commands approximately 50% of the blade market. The significant components of this announcement fall into four major functional buckets – improved hardware, simplified and expanded storage features, new interconnects and I/O options, and serviceability enhancements. Among the highlights are:

  • Direct connection of HP 3PAR storage – One of the major drawbacks for block-mode storage with blades has always been the cost of the SAN to connect it to the blade enclosure. With the ability to connect an HP 3PAR storage array directly to the c-Class enclosure without any SAN components, HP has reduced both the cost and the complexity of storage for a wide class of applications that have storage requirements within the scope of a single storage array.
  • New blades – With this announcement, HP fills in the gaps in their blade portfolio, announcing a new Intel Xeon EN based BL-420 for entry requirements, an upgrade to the BL-465 to support the latest AMD 16-core Interlagos CPU, and the BL-660, a new single-width Xeon E5 based 4-socket blade. In addition, HP has expanded the capacity of the sidecar storage blade to 1.5 TB, enabling an 8-server and 12 TB + chassis configuration.
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Dell Joins The ARMs Race, Announces ARM-Based 'Copper' Server

Earlier this week Dell joined arch-competitor HP in endorsing ARM as a potential platform for scale-out workloads by announcing “Copper,” an ARM-based version of its PowerEdge-C dense server product line. Dell’s announcement and positioning, while a little less high-profile than HP’s February announcement, is intended to serve the same purpose — to enable an ARM ecosystem by providing a platform for exploring ARM workloads and to gain a visible presence in the event that it begins to take off.

Dell’s platform is based on a four-core Marvell ARM V7 SOC implementation, which it claims is somewhat higher performance than the Calxeda part, although drawing more power, at 15W per node (including RAM and local disk). The server uses the PowerEdge-C form factor of 12 vertically mounted server modules in a 3U enclosure, each with four server nodes on them for a total of 48 servers/192 cores in a 3U enclosure. In a departure from other PowerEdge-C products, the Copper server has integrated L2 network connectivity spanning all servers, so that the unit will be able to serve as a low-cost test bed for clustered applications without external switches.

Dell is offering this server to selected customers, not as a GA product, along with open source versions of the LAMP stack, Crowbar, and Hadoop. Currently Cannonical is supplying Ubuntu for ARM servers, and Dell is actively working with other partners. Dell expects to see OpenStack available for demos in May, and there is an active Fedora project underway as well.

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