Thursday, July 13, 2017

Intel debuts its Xeon Scalable platform - Part 2

Intel described the launch of its Xeon Scalable Platform as the biggest data centre announcement in the past 10 years. Wall Street's reaction was fairly muted, perhaps because Intel has already captured nearly the entire market for server CPUs and there was not much to suggest that any innovations in the chip architecture would significantly expand the overall market or the company's margins. However, a broad ecosystem of cloud providers, telecom carriers, server vendors, network equipment suppliers, storage specialists and systems integrators were lined-up for the big Xeon unveiling with press releases of their own. As an industry milestone, it is certain that the next wave of cloud data centre infrastructure will be built on Xeon Scalable processors.

Highlights of Intel's Xeon ecosystem momentum

Amazon Web Services

AWS has listed Intel as a strategic partner for over a decade. It is certainly a major customer. It’s been claimed that every day AWS enough servers to power a Fortune 500 enterprise. AWS launched a C5 instance family in November 2016 powered by a custom version of the Xeon Scalable Platform with hardware acceleration capability. Amazon EC2 C5 instances based on Xeon Scalable processors with AVX-512 now offer up to 72 vCPUs - twice that of previous generation compute-optimised instances - and 144 GB of memory. AWS also said it is working with Intel to optimise deep learning engines. AWS reports over a 100x boost in inference performance and is also using the new Xeon for high performance computing (HPC) clusters supporting thousands or tens of thousands of EC2 instances. AWS provided a video testimonial for the launch event.

It should also be noted that AWS is now offering NVIDIA GPU instances. Like the other cloud giants, AWS will also build its own data centre gear whenever this is the fastest or cheapest path to deployment. This includes routers based on custom Broadcom silicon and bespoke network interface cards based on an in-house Annapurna ASIC. At its scale, AWS would surely consider all silicon options for its core platform. Intel and AWS seem to be working well together.

AT&T

The guest of honour at the Xeon launch event was John Donovan, AT&T's chief strategy officer and group president, technology and operations. ‎AT&T has been running the new Xeon processors for several months in its production network. Donovan reported a 25% boost in performance - good but maybe not overwhelmingly so. Still, AT&T is moving all its network functions into a cloud based on X86. AT&T said it has a strong collaborative relationship with Intel. Total cost of ownership for the entire network improves with each generation of Xeons.

Google

The first public cloud to deploy the new Xeon Scalable Platform processors is Google. End customers are reporting consistent performance improvements, in some cases of 30 to 50%. When the applications are tuned for the AVX-512 instructions, customers are reporting more than a 100% performance improvement.

Microsoft

The new Intel Xeon Scalable Platform processors will be the base for Microsoft Azure. Earlier this year at the Open Compute Project (OCP) Summit in San Jose, Microsoft announced Project Olympus, a next generation hyperscale cloud hardware design and a new model for open source hardware development with the OCP community. Rather than contributing a fully-completed design to OCP, with this new approach Microsoft will contribute its next generation cloud hardware designs when they are approximately 50% complete. The building blocks that Project Olympus will contribute consist of a new universal motherboard, high-availability power supply with included batteries, 1U/2U server chassis, high-density storage expansion, a new universal rack power distribution unit (PDU) for global data centre interoperability, and a standards compliant rack management card.

Although some saw this announcement as a potential opening for ARM processors in Azure, in a customer testimonial video this week Microsoft confirmed that Project Olympus is based on Xeon Scalable Platform processors and Intel FPGAs. Microsoft said this combination of Xeon processors, FPGAs and high-performance storage will be a powerful solution for AI. In fact, Azure anticipates the world's largest deployment of FPGAs to power the largest neural network to date.

Telefónica

In Spain, Intel has been collaborating with Telefónica since 2008. One big focus of development is network functions virtualisation (NFV) to simplify its network. Telefonica expects the Intel Xeon Scalable Platform processors will play a key role in its 5G network. This means that Telefónica is fully committed to x86 for the basis of its infrastructure. The new processors, which are currently in Telefónica’s labs, have been delivering a performance boost of approximately 67% over the previous Xeon E5 2600 chips.

6WIND

6WIND reports that its software running on Xeon Scalable Processors delivers a significant boost for IPsec. Specifically, 6WIND Turbo IPsec performance tests on Xeon Platinum servers demonstrate a 50% increase in processing power for common applications such as multi-site VPNs and backhaul security gateways.

Accton

Accton announced a combination server-switch hardware appliance based on dual-socket Intel Xeon Scalable processors, supporting up to 28 cores (56 threads) per socket. The switch system includes 48 SFP28 (25 GbE) and 6 QSFP28 (100 GbE) network ports, all contained within a single 1RU chassis form-factor. Accton said its Intel Xeon Purley platform increases CPU capacity and performance for virtual machine consolidation and density, as well as boosting memory bandwidth (six channels).

Advantech

Advantech has introduced two new platforms: a 2U dual socket network appliance and a single socket, short depth 1U server, both based on the new Intel Xeon Scalable Processors. The scalability of the dual socket appliance increases significantly, with up to 12 more cores per CPU than on the previous generation appliance. The company noted performance advances in the throughput of encrypted packets using the latest Intel QuickAssist Technology, now available in the chipset, to perform IPsec encryption and decryption. During tests at Intel Labs, a server configured with an Intel Xeon Platinum Processor 8160 showed an increase of up to 1.32 times higher performance, demonstrating what both platforms will be able to deliver to help meet demands for higher encrypted data throughput and VPN density while freeing up slots for more I/O and offload.

Cisco

Cisco launched a new generation of servers and software based on Intel's latest Xeon Scalable Platform processors and a unique Cisco system-level vision for the future of IT. The Cisco Unified Computing System (Cisco UCS) M5 generation seeks to extend the power and simplicity of unified computing for data-intensive workloads, applications at the edge, and the next generation of distributed application architectures. The latest UCS Director 6.5 management software allows data centre professionals to complete 80% of operational tasks from a single console. A Workload Optimization Manager, powered by Turbonomic and which is deeply integrated into the UCS hardware, uses intent-based analytics to continuously match workload demand to infrastructure supply across on premise and multi-cloud environments. The company says the Cisco UCS can reduce administration and management costs by up to 63% while accelerating the delivery of new application services by up to 83%.

Dell EMC

Dell EMC launched the 14th generation of its PowerEdge servers featuring the new processors and a cyber-resilient architecture with a deep root of trust, including cryptographically trusted booting.

Ericsson

Highlighting the new Intel Xeon Scalable processors, Ericsson published a whitepaper 'Industrialising Network Functions Virtualisation with Software-Defined Infrastructure'. Topics discussed include Data Plane Development Kit (DPDK), which is a set of software libraries for accelerating packet processing workloads on commodity off-the-shelf hardware platforms.

The Fast Data Project

FD.io or Fido, a collaborative open source project that aims to establish a high-performance IO services framework for dynamic computing environments, announced significant performance gains reaching terabit levels at multimillion route scale. Architectural improvement increases in latest Xeon Scalable processors - such as increased PCIe bandwidth - allow FD.io to double its performance at scale without modification to the software. FD.io said it is the only vSwitch for which performance scaling is IO bound rather than CPU bound.

Fujitsu

Fujitsu launched a multi-node server that combines the density of blade-like servers with the simplicity of rack-based systems. The newly-refreshed range of dual- and quad-socket PRIMERGY servers and octo-socket PRIMEQUEST business critical server systems are designed for the new Xeon Scalable processors. Technical features include enhanced DDR4 memory modules and up to 6 TB capacity in quad socket PRIMERGY server. Fujitsu said its PRIMEQUEST server pushes the performance envelope of SAP HANA up to 12 TB of the in-memory database.

Nokia

Nokia introduced a refreshed AirFrame Data Center solution based on the Xeon Scalable Processors. Nokia said it has worked closely with Intel over the past year during the Intel Xeon Scalable processor development process and has just completed its own benchmarking of the new design. The results show a performance improvement over the previous generation Intel Xeon processor E5-26xxv4, with an average gain of 40% in processor rate performance.

Radisys

Radisys announced support for the new Xeon Scalable processors in its DCEngine, which helps communication service providers to transform their central offices into hyperscale SDN-enabled virtualised data centres. Radisys said its DCEngine’s management software suite, delivered with Intel Rack Scale Design, simplifies data centre resource management by enabling an open management framework with dynamic resource allocation, intelligent policy profiling and real-time, granular insight into compute, storage and network resources. The company estimates that CSPs leveraging DCEngine in data centres can expect significant improvements in total cost of ownership through reduced real estate footprint by 55%, which can result in up to 35% cost savings over a period of three years, as well as substantial reduction in costs associated with power consumption, hardware and software support.

ZTE

ZTE has launched a 2-socket cloud application rack server R5300 G4, 4-socket high-reliability rack server R8500 G4, hyperconverged blade server E9000 and software-defined storage KS10000.

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