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Review: Intel's New Nehalem Historic, Game Changing

Using a server with Intel's Xeon 5570 processor, the CRN Test Center was able to launch the equivalent of a 21-unit data center in less than an hour using virtualization software.

A review of the CPU and the processing platform provided by Intel shows technology that should quickly vault small and large data centers into a new era of computing. The latest lineup of Nehalem processors will enable servers that can realize the full potential of virtualization and server consolidation, and should spark CIOs and companies to move sooner, rather than later, toward meaningful data center upgrades.

The CRN Test Center spent several days evaluating an Asus server built with an Intel Xeon 5570 at 2.93 GHz, with 24 GB of memory at 1.333 GHz, and two hard disk drives of 300 GB each. Windows Server 2008 Enterprise Edition was loaded onto the system to get started.

First, benchmark testing running Primate Labs Geekbench 2.1.1 testing software on the 64-bit software ran up a score of 14,981. That compares to a score of 7,912 that the Test Center measured in November when we tested the then-new AMD Opteron "Shanghai" server. The score is simply the highest benchmark ever run in the CRN Test Center lab. (In 32-bit software mode, the Geekbench score ran to 13,600.)

But Intel has designed this latest round of server processors to be about more than just benchmarking speed. The company has specifically said that the system was for, among other things, faster virtualization. We tried it out.

With Server 2008 running, we created 20 additional virtual Server 2008s (through cloning) in about 30 minutes.

On the test server, we set out to launch the 20 separate virtual servers, each running Windows Server 2008. We assigned each 1 GB of memory. One at a time, we launched each virtual server, started a workload, and then went on to launch the next server. All down the line, not a single server took more than a minute to boot -- even when there were 19 other servers doing work, all running off the same CPU.

We did begin to notice some slowing in the launch of VMs once we got to 20, as we reached the host systems' memory limit. However, all VMs continued running and performing their assigned workloads without a hiccup.

When we added it all up, we were able to create the equivalent of a 21-server data center, with each server running a workload, in less than an hour. (That includes the host as well as VMs.) From scratch.

To be sure, the first 30 to 60 days following a CPU launch are critical -- when the potential for any problems or defects to be discovered during early production deployment is at its highest. However, Intel's track record for the past several years has been pretty good on this front. We saw no signs of instability during our testing process.

On startup, the server consumed 118 watts of power, and that remained stable during testing on a variety of workloads. The unit never reached above 87 degrees Fahrenheit. Taken all together, the implications for next-generation data centers -- from a performance as well as an energy-efficiency point of view -- will be profound.

Ever since the launch, little more than a year ago, of Windows Server 2008, the software showed huge potential to radically transform the data center. The one, big hurdle: CPU and other hardware support to make full use of the software potential. With the Asus server, built with the Xeon 5570 processor that we examined, we believe that issue has finally been realized. Solution providers now have a single CPU solution that carries the weight of significant virtualization deployments in a highly manageable manner.

This launch by Intel looks to be historic, in what it will do for the potential of virtualization and data-center consolidation. It will also change the game in terms of value that can be delivered in the form factor of a single, 1U rack server. Bottom line: This is the most compelling piece of technology to be released onto the market this year, and will be hard to top.

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