Intel packs six cores into Xeon 7400 processors

Intel announced Monday its new a new Xeon processor line that boasts up to six processing cores per chip and is being pushed as a chip tailor-made for virtualization and multi-threaded processing.

The Intel Xeon Processor 7400 Series (formerly codenamed Dunnington) has 16MB of shared cache memory. Intel claims that the new chips can offer up to 50 per cent gains in productivity over older series. Platforms based on the new chips can scale up to 16 sockets, delivering servers with up to almost 100 processing cores. The 7400 series is based on Intel’s 45nm high-k process and Hafnium-based, high-k metal gate formula transistors. This gives a reduction in platform power of up to 10 per cent.

“Data demand is rising exponentially,” said Intel vice-president and general manager of the digital enterprise group Tom Kilroy in a teleconferenced roundtable discussion. “You still have a responsibility for requirements, application consistency, and supporting new bandwidth capability, so you can’t have a reliability issue there.”

MySpace vice-president of technical operations Richard Buckingham said that rapid growth has been a challenge for his data centre administration team. He said, “We’re a very young company, so we’ve had that rapid growth—with 12,000 servers, it’s a significant challenge.”

It isn’t the leap that some experts believed in a while back, as, Forrester Research analyst James Staten pointed out, it was originally thought that the number of cores would start to double with every release, making the logical step for the 7400 series to be an eight-core processor instead of only boasting six. Said Staten: “So it’s somewhat of a stopgap.” This could change, however, he said, once key software like Windows could keep up with a large jump in core numbers.

Intel’s new series follows on the heels of AMD’s recent announcement of its own six-core processor (codenamed Barcelona), which is due to be released next year. “This is an incremental improvement,” said Staten. “They’re both working on the same roadmap. It’s just more cores, which means more goodness.”

AMD won’t see any immediate converts from its own six-core processor, said Staten. “At this point, AMD needs to prove that it can consistently execute. Once Barcelona comes out and there’s two or three versions out…This is no doubt achievable in the long run, though, as it is a core focus of their CEO,” he said.

The products can hit frequencies of 2.66 GHz and power levels down to 50 watts, and are compatible with the Xeon 7300 series. HP, IBM, Sun, Dell, Fujitsu, Hitachi, NEC, Supermicro, and Unisys are all on-board with the new chips.

This ties in to Intel goals around increased standardization and energy efficiency, said Kilroy. He said, “You want fewer architectures and drive down the total cost of ownership. Power and cooling are also at top-of-mind, so we wanted to be able to deliver a low-wattage, energy-efficient design and newer form factor.”

“Power and space are always a factor,” said VeriSign’s principal engineer John Bosco. “No matter how much you give them, they always have an insatiable desire for more! The new shrinking form factor is very important.”

The chips also include an updated version of Virtualization Technology FlexMigration, a key component of Intel’s continued push toward more and more virtualization. Said Staten: “There’s more of an emphasis on virtualization and multi-threaded applications here.”

Oracle has used a lot of virtualization, according to Campbell Web, vice-president for the Oracle collaboration suite IT. “We’ve had forty-plus acquisitions recently, so virtualization has really helped there.”

The company currently runs 600 virtual machines and plans to ramp up to 6,000 by next summer. Said Webb: “We’re very aggressive—it’s one area we’re targeting to support data. We’ve also consolidated from 12,000 down to 6,000 servers elsewhere, which has provided additional scalability.”

When buying in quantities of 1,000, the 7400 series pricing will range from $856 to $2,729. The one downside could be the pricing, said Staten. “There’s the software licence impact if they’ll continue to charge by processor cores rather than sockets, which could get really expensive,” he said. “Most software is starting to follow the Microsoft model of socket counts, but we’re going to continue to have a significant problem in reaching consensus.”

Pick-up will be fastest in the areas requiring intensive computing said IDC Canada director of infrastructure hardware research Jason Bremner. “Not everyone needs that computing power, but it’s pretty sophisticated to meet complex workloads in ERP, databases, scientific computing, and e-commerce.”

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