The Empire Strikes Back – Intel Reveals An Effective Low-Power And Micro Server Strategy

A lot has been written about potential threats to Intel’s low-power server hegemony, including discussions of threats from not only its perennial minority rival AMD but also from emerging non-x86 technologies such as ARM servers. While these are real threats, with potential for disrupting Intel’s position in the low power and small form factor server segment if left unanswered, Intel’s management has not been asleep at the wheel. As part of the rollout of the new Sandy Bridge architecture, Intel recently disclosed their platform strategy for what they are defining as “Micro Servers,” small single-socket servers with shared power and cooling to improve density beyond the generally accepted dividing line of one server per RU that separates “standard density” from “high density.” While I think that Intel’s definition is a bit myopic, mostly serving to attach a label to a well established category, it is a useful tool for segmenting low-end servers and talking about the relevant workloads.

Intel’s strategy revolves around introducing successive generations of its Sandy Bridge and future architectures embodied as Low Power (LP) and Ultra Low Power (ULP) products with promises of up to 2.2X performance per watt and 30% less actual power compared to previous generation equivalent x86 servers, as outlined in the following chart from Intel:

So what does this mean for Infrastructure & Operations professionals interested in serving the target loads for micro servers, such as:

  • Basic content delivery and web servers
  • Low-end dedicated server hosting
  • Email and basic SaaS delivery
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Dell Delivers vStart – Ready To Run Virtual Infrastructure

Another Tier-1 Converged Infrastructure Option

The drum continues to beat for converged infrastructure products, and Dell has given it the latest thump with the introduction of vStart, a pre-integrated environment for VMware. Best thought of as a competitor to VCE, the integrated VMware, Cisco and EMC virtualization stack, vStart combines:

  • Dell PowerEdge R610 and R710 rack servers
  • Dell EqualLogic PS6000XV storage
  • Dell PowerConnect Ethernet switches
  • Preinstalled VMware (trial) software & Dell management extensions
  • Dell factory and onsite services
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Intel Ups The Ante At The High End With New E7 CPUs

Bigger, Better, Faster Xeon CPUs

Intel today publicly announced its anticipated “Westmere EX” high end Westmere architecture server CPU as the E7, now part of a new family nomenclature encompassing entry (E3), midrange (E5), and high-end server CPUs (E7), and at first glance it certainly looks like it delivers on the promise of the Westmere architecture with enhancements that will appeal to buyers of high-end x86 systems.

The E7 in a nutshell:

  • 32 nm CPU with up to 10 cores, each with hyper threading, for up to 20 threads per socket.
  •  Intel claims that the system-level performance will be up to 40% higher than the prior generation 8-core Nehalem EX. Notice that the per-core performance improvement is modest (although Intel does offer a SKU with 8 cores and a slightly higher clock rate for those desiring ultimate performance per thread).
  • Improvements in security with Intel Advanced Encryption Standard New Instruction (AES-NI) and Intel Trusted Execution Technology (Intel TXT).
  • Major improvements in power management by incorporating the power management capabilities from the Xeon 5600 CPUs, which include more aggressive P states, improved idle power operation, and the ability to separately reduce individual core power setting depending on workload, although to what extent this is supported on systems that do not incorporate Intel’s Node Manager software is not clear.
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