Intel Unveils Xeon E7 Server Processor, Says Itanium Roadmap Unaffected

Intel on Tuesday launched its high-end Xeon E7 server processors, which Intel says offer performance up to 40 percent greater than its previous-generation Xeon 7500-series chips.

Intel launched 18 new 32-nm E7 processors, including the E7-8800, E7-4800, and E7-2800 chips, featuring up to 10 hyper-threaded cores. Intel’s Xeon E7 server processors include several features aimed at improving energy-efficiency and security, as well as support for virtualization software.

As a result, Xeon is no longer positioned strictly as an entry-level product, but will instead alternate in terms of both availability and performance with Intel’s Itanium architecture. Speaking at a press briefing in San Francisco on Tuesday, Kirk Skaugen, vice president and general manager of Intel’s Data Center Group, said the transition began with the launch of Xeon 7500 in March 2010.

"Instead of Itanium at the top and Xeon at the bottom of the lineup, we’re going to have them side by side,’ he said. ’With server vendors including Windows, Linux and Solaris now running on the Xeon architecture, there’s no workload in the world today that Xeon can’t handle.’

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Intel said its roadmap for Itanium is on track with the unveiling of its Itanium-based Poulson processors earlier this year, which Skaugen said doubles the performance of its predecessor Tukwila. Skaugen said that Tukwila’s successor code-named Kittson is in development as well. However, rather than following Intel’s ’tick-tock’ roadmap, Itanium is now on an off-year ’tock-tock’ cycle, Skaugen said.

’Itanium is on a two-year beat rate,’ Skaugen said. ’Xeon is delivering up to 40 percent performance, which is a world record. Since Itanium is not on a tick-tock schedule, Xeon and Itanium will leap-frog each other.’

In addition, Intel said its updated Xeon server platform contributes to its goal of creating an open, industry standard for mission-critical applications such as business intelligence and real-time data analytics. ’We want to democratize mission-critical computing and fundamentally change the economics in that space,’ Skaugen said. ’The largest software vendors have embraced this technology, bringing four- to eight-socket systems gluelessly into the architecture.’

Skaugen said Intel’s architecture offers a more cost- and energy-efficient industry standard, and that Intel is seeing unparalleled momentum in the IT industry for its architecture as it tries to convince vendors throughout the ecosystem to migrate over. Intel said vendors that support Xeon E7-based platforms include IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, Red Hat, SAP, and VMware. Intel said it expects over 35 E7-based platforms to eventually come to market from manufacturers including Cisco, Dell, Fujitsu, HP, IBM, Lenovo, and Oracle.

Next: Oracle’s Decision To Adopt Xeon E7, Not Itanium

Oracle last month stopped developing software that runs on Itanium processors, and claimed that Intel was planning to discontinue the Itanium line shortly. Although Intel says it is on schedule to offer its next-generation Itanium-based Kittson chip in 2013, Intel’s placement of high-end Xeon processors side-by-side with Itanium and its off-year, ’tock-tock’ schedule is noteworthy.

Skaugen said Intel helped bring down the price of servers by transforming a proprietary risk segment into an industry standard without compromising reliability and performance, thus transforming the economics of IT. Skaugen cited Facebook as an example of companies that are moving into the marketplace as the average server system price goes from $58,000 to about $3,800.

However, he added that two percent of the world's servers today remain under proprietary infrastructure, which he said accounts for a great amount of their IT managers’ expenditures. But with the emergence of cloud computing, companies will be able to move to a private cloud infrastructure with a dynamic data center by running an industry standard architecture instead of proprietary silos.

Skaugen said 19 vendors will soon unveil Xeon E7-based systems, which have been in production since the fourth quarter of last year. The Xeon E7 processors will run inside two-socket servers as well as four- and eight-socket systems, and are expandable to servers with up to 256 sockets, according to Intel. In addition, Skaugen said Intel’s new Xeon E7 processors leverage its scalable Millbrook memory buffers, which scale out the memory to 2 TB on 4-socket systems.

All together, Skaugen said Intel customers running its new Xeon E7 chips in their servers will be able to replace 18 dual-core servers with one Intel Xeon E7 chip, or they can take out the old server and put in a new one, in order to get 18 to 29 times the performance with the same set cooling and power requirements. Skaugen said customers will see paybacks in some cases within one year.

As for rival AMD’s upcoming 16-core Bulldozer CPU architecture -- which is intended for servers and will likely compete with Intel’s Xeon E7 chips in the high-end mission critical server space -- Skaugen said Intel’s chips won’t offer as many cores, but that isn’t as important as their capabilities. ’Not all cores are created equal,’ Skaugen said. ’Intel offers the highest level of performance and efficiency, and the Xeon E7’s buffering technology gets significantly higher DIM counts than other multi-core CPUs.’

Intel said its Xeon E3-1200 processor family ranges in price from $189 to $612 in quantities of 1,000. Intel said its E7-8800, E7-4800, E7-2800 processors range in price from $774 to $4,616.