Update: AMD Partners Promise Quick ROI For Magny-Cours Server Swaps

Advanced Micro Devices has what it thinks will be a game-changing new x86 server platform and judging from the list of computer makers preparing to ship systems based around AMD's new Opteron 6100 series microprocessors, the chip maker could be onto something.

"There are too many silos in IT environments and too much complexity," said David Peterson, group marketing manager for Industry Standard Servers at Palo Alto, Calif.-based Hewlett-Packard, one of several computer makers basing refreshed server product lines around AMD's new eight-core and 12-core Opteron processors.

"What we hear in the industry is that it costs too much to power these servers. That they use too much energy," said Peterson. HP is launching its new ProLiant G7 family of rack-mount servers in conjunction with Sunnyvale, Calif.-based AMD's release of the first Opteron 6000 series platform, formerly code named Magny-Cours.

Some computer makers on board with the Magny-Cours launch, such as Fremont, Calif.-based AMAX Information Technologies, will also have products ready for Intel's Tuesday release of its eight-core Xeon 7500 series processors for multi-socket servers, also known as Nehalem EX.

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HP will have four-socket and above servers to showcase at Intel's Nehalem EX launch event in San Francisco Tuesday, an HP spokesperson told Channelweb.com late last week.

But HP has built its next-generation ProLiant G7 server line soley around Magny-Cours. The computing giant said the new Intel chips would eventually find their way into the G7 product family, but for now, the three initial servers in the G7 lineup sport AMD parts.

The first servers in the G7 series are the HP ProLiant DL165 G7 and HP ProLiant DL385 G7 rack-optimized servers, and the HP ProLiant SL165z G7 scale-out "skinless" server, the company said in a statement.

In rolling out the ProLiant G7 series, HP has stepped up an aggressive return-on-investment story it first made in March 2009 with the introduction of its ProLiant G6 lineup of servers equipped with Intel's Nehalem-class Xeon 5500 series chips. Back then, Palo Alto, Calif.-based HP promised a three-month ROI for customers replacing older servers with single-core processors with G6 units featuring Intel's re-architected quad-core Xeons.

On Monday, HP cut that promise by a third, asserting that its new G7 servers would deliver ROI in just two months. On the consolidation front, the computer maker also claimed that just one of its new G7 servers could replace 23 older systems and deliver equivalent performance.

The computing giant can make that claim due in part to the increased efficiencies in AMD's Magny-Cours chips, Peterson said, but also thanks to HP's development of its own proprietary Integrated Thermal Logic technologies, such as the system-level thermal detection array HP calls its "Sea of Sensors" and Dynamic Power Trapping, a method for reclaiming extra power in a data center.

For a database-dependent real estate listing company like MLS Property Information Network (MLS PIN), the HP value proposition is enticing, said Matt Lavallee, director of technology at the Shrewsbury, Mass.-based firm.

Next: Power-Saving Proposition

"Originally, it was the price-for-performance that drew us to Opteron," said Lavallee, an HP customer on hand for an AMD launch event in San Francisco Monday. "We're an SMB so we don't have a huge data center footprint or a big IT budget."

But as MLS PIN has seen its subscriber base grow to nearly 30,000, trimming data center power costs by hook or by crook has become an increasingly important goal for the company, he said.

"We face seasonal demand that increases by more than 500 percent during the spring and, until recently, this strain on our server infrastructure affected our ability to provide great service to our customers," Lavallee said.

"Now, we've doubled the number of concurrent users we can support while delivering dramatically faster page load times. HP's integrated Thermal Logic technology will help us reduce our total power and cooling costs by 60 percent over the long term."

The latest generation of AMD's Opteron product line includes low-wattage models and new virtualization features that AMD believes will prove compelling to customers looking to reduce the power bills generated by their data centers by getting more computation from less hardware.

And with five new Magny-Cours chips boasting 12 cores yet priced well below Intel's most expensive Xeon quad-core and six-core server processors and imminent eight-core chips, AMD is once again highlighting price-for-performance as it challenges its archrival.

At a San Francisco meeting with journalists, Nigel Dessau, the chip maker's chief marketing officer, reiterated AMD's claim that Magny-Cours "eliminates the 4P tax" -- meaning AMD's new chips are optimized for servers configured for four or more processor sockets at prices significantly lower than its competitor charges.

The most expensive processor in the new Opteron 6100 series, the 12-core, 2.3GHz Opteron 6176 SE, was priced at $1,386 per unit in 1,000-unit quantities. By contrast, Intel's priciest quad-core Itanium processor was ticketed at $3,838 as of Monday, while the six-core, 2.66GHz Xeon X7460 was listed at $2,729.

Of course, Intel will have pricing news of its own to tell on Tuesday as part of the company's Nehalem EX launch -- just a short 24 hours following AMD's day in the sun with Magny-Cours. How Intel finalizes prices on the Nehalem EX lineup should make for interesting conversations in IT shops looking to refresh hardware following the budget-killing recession of 2009.

Meanwhile, AMD is also promising customers better processor-to-processor communication in multi-socket servers, as well as significantly improved memory capacity and bandwidth in Magny-Cours as compared to its predecessor, the six-core Opteron 8400 series.

Next: Introducing Direct Connect 2.0

The new processors mark AMD's transition to four-channel DDR3 memory allocation and the introduction of HyperTransport 3.0 support for the chip maker's next-generation Direct Connect 2.0 architecture -- the latest improvement in the technology widely recognized as key to the Opteron brand's success in the market since the introduction with AMD's first 64-bit processors in 2003.

"Look at it this way, the Direct Connect Architecture 2.0 just has fatter pipes. We really have much fatter pipes," said Patrick Patla, vice president and general manager of AMD's Server and Embedded Divisions.

"And where the market's going, we're ready for going into the cloud," he said. "The high-end of the two-way market and the low-end of the four-way market are looking for the same things. And when the software community firms up, we're very well-positioned for 2010, 2011 and beyond."

AMD partners ready with Magny-Cours-based servers and hardware platforms Monday included multi-billion-dollar companies like Dell and Acer, as well as smaller channel shops like Bay Area-based AMAX and Colfax International.

Acer in particular made headlines with its commitment to Magny-Cours, part of the Taiwan-based OEM's stated goal of seizing 10 per cent of the enterprise server market, according to media reports. Acer, seeking to carve its way into a branded x86 server landscape dominated by some of the biggest technology companies in the world, will use its Gateway label for its upcoming Opteron 6000 series-based tower and rack-mount servers.

Acer could see an opening in the market via the Opteron 6000 series as three server giants -- IBM, newcomer Cisco, and Sun Microsystems, now a part of Oracle -- appeared unready with Magny-Cours products at launch.

AMAX, a builder of custom servers, high-end workstations, storage products and appliances for independent software vendors, on Monday began shipping a full array of systems based on AMD's newest processors.

Additions to the AMAX ServMax series of products include the ODM's new 2U Quad Node with four hot-swappable dual-processor computing nodes which supports up to 96 processing cores, as well as 1U Twin and quad-processor 1U servers with support for up to 48 processing cores in a 1U form factor, said James Huang, product marketing manager at AMAX.

According to AMD, the list of other OEMs, custom system builders and components makers shipping or preparing to ship Opteron 6000 series-based systems and platforms includes Cray, MicroTech, Atipa, Appro International, Asus, SGI, Supermicro, Tyan Computer, ZT Systems, Penguin Computing and Microway.

This article has been updated with information that HP will showcase Nehalem EX-based four-socket and above servers at Intel's launch event Tuesday.