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Virtually Speaking: The Arrival of Quad-Core

By Amy Newman (Send Email)
Posted Sep 11, 2007


Quad core has arrived. Last week, Intel unveiled the long-awaited 7300 processor series. On Monday, AMD followed suit with the Quad-Core AMD Opteron.

Quad-core is here, and virtualization is its biggest driver.

Amy Newman

If these names don't sound familiar, it's because Intel's offering up until now was known as Tigerton, and Opteron's was known as Barcelona.

Although structured differently, both processors were designed with the same end goal: energy efficiency and virtualization. Both have components to position them as the ideal foundation of a consolidated environment.

Tigerton Ready to Pounce

The six new Quad-Core Xeon 7300 series processors can deliver more than twice the performance and more than three times the performance per watt over the previous-generation dual-core products, according to Intel.

The release marks the "triple crown of moving to a multicore microarchitecture," Kirk Skaugen, vice president of the Digital Enterprise Group and co-general manager of the Intel Server Platforms Group, told ServerWatch.

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"Quad-core," Skaugen said, "is now mainstream. This completes the transition for the Xeon family."

This transition to more energy-efficient and virtualization-friendly core microarchitecture took less than 15 months.

The energy-efficient 7300 series is available in frequencies up to 2.93GHz at 130 watts, several 80-watt processors, and a 50-watt version optimized for four socket blades and high-density rack form factors with a frequency of 1.86GHz. The Intel 7300 chipset features Data Traffic Optimizations to provide a balanced platform design. Various technologies have been added to enhance data movement between the processors, memory and I/O connections.

A full set of specs is available on Intel's Web site.

According to Skaugen, the new processor sets a host of records for key industry-standard benchmarks. For example, the newly announced version of the HP ProLiant DL580 G5 server shattered the previous record for TPC-C benchmark (measuring database performance), with a score of 407,079 tpmC at $1.71/tpmC using the Microsoft SQL Server Database. It also set records for ERP and Web server performance. Fujitsu, IBM and Lenovo also set records for the PrimergyRX600 S4, System x3850 M2, and R630 G7, respectively.

Born to Be Virtual

For some time, industry experts have said virtualization will be the sweetspot and key selling point for multicore. Not surprisingly, therefore, both Intel's and AMD's processors were designed with virtualization and server consolidation in mind.

The 7300 chipset, for example, contains four times the memory capacity of Intel’s previous MP platforms.

Because of their virtualization design, the servers enable easier movement among servers. Enterprises can now pool all of their Intel Core microarchitecture based server resources (regardless of whether they are single-, dual- or multi-processor) into a dynamic virtual server infrastructure that enables live virtual machine migration via Intel's VT FlexMigration offering. FlexMigration also allows for migrations between processor directions, Skaugen said, providing a level of investment protection.

VMware has endorsed VT FlexMigration, according to Skaugen, which means customers can use VMotion to migrate virtual machines across the microarchitecture.

Virtual Iron (which is funded by Intel) is also supporting FlexPriority in its recently released version 4.

Virtual Iron Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Mike Grandinetti told ServerWatch that he, "expects to see a 50 percent improvement in 32-bit Windows SMP environments," as a result.

And he has reason to anticipate that: Using Intel's vConsolidate benchmark, Virtual Iron reports a 167-percent improvement compared to running Virtual Iron 4.0 on the servers powered with the previous generation of Intel processors, Grandinetti said.

All Aboard the Quad-Core Express

Skaugen said millions of quad-core processors have been shipped to more than 50 OEMs since June. Intel also began shipping a quad-core server of its own: the Intel S7000FC4UR server platform, which has been shipping for several months. More than 50 OEMs began shipping Xeon 7300 powered systems last week, including, Dell, Egenera, Fujitsu, Fujitsu-Siemens, Hitachi, HP, IBM, NEC, Sun, Supermicro, and Unisys. Form factors include both racks and blades.

IBM, for example, released the System x3950 M2, its first system to use the X4 chipset. The server boasts speed and efficiency improvements, but what Big Blue hopes will truly set it apart is its chip-based, or "embedded," virtualization software, which comes preloaded on a 4GB USB Flash storage device and loads when the end user pops it in at system start-up.

Skaugen described the offering as foreshadowing where virtualization technology is going.

VMware's announcement of VMware ESX Server 3i, a hypervisor born to be embedded supports Skaugen's theory further.

HP, meanwhile, refreshed the popular rack-based HP ProLiant DL580 G5 server and the HP ProLiant BL680c G5, its first 4-processor quad-core server blade. The new DL580 G5 has double the memory capacity of its predecessor, while the HP ProLiant BL680c G5 uses up to four Intel 7300 series processors and has a large memory capacity for data-intensive applications.

HP is "positioning the hardware as a virtualization platform. It's best in class for virtualization," Krista Satterwaithe, corporate manager for enterprises services at HP, told ServerWatch.

The servers are also designed to "help customers reduce power needs from every vector," she said.

Both servers come with HP Insight Power Manager and the HP ProLiant Essentials Virtual Machine Management Pack. VMware, Xen and Microsoft Virtual Server are all compatible with the offering, Satterwaithe said.

The two servers are currently available. Pricing for the DL580 G5 starts at $9,219, and the BL680c G5 starts at $9,669.

HP, like many others also hopped on the Quad-Core Opteron train.

A company spokesperson said HP will broadly support Quad-Core AMD Opteron across its x86 ProLiant product line and will begin to ship systems in the fourth quarter.

Like 7300-pwered servers, the virtualzation and energy efficiency advantages of the AMD chip will greatly enhance the servers.

Arrival From Barcelona

Quad-Core AMD Opteron may have missed its ship date by half a year, but the feature set didn't miss the boat.

New technologies include CoolCore, which turns off unused parts of the processor; Independent Dynamic Core Technology, an enhancement to AMD PowerNow! Technology that allows each core to vary clock frequency based on workload; and Dual Dynamic Power Management, which provides an independent power supply to the cores and to the memory controller. This enables the cores and memory controllers to operate on different voltages, determined by usage. More details are available on AMD's Web site.

An integrated memory controller is also included, which has resulted in features specifically designed for virtualization being added as well. Rapid Virtualization Indexing (formerly Nested Paging) reduces the overhead of virtualization software and handles memory better, delivering near real-time application performance.

Amy Newman is the managing editor of ServerWatch. She has been following the virtualization space since 2001.

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