Intel wants to modernize data centers with new Xeon server chips

HP, Dell, Lenovo and IBM will come out with servers running Xeon E5-2600 v3 chips, which are the first to support DDR4

Intel has designed its latest server chips to provide the building blocks to modernize "legacy data centers" by providing more processing cores, throughput and power-saving features.

The Xeon E5-2600 v3 chips are the company's fastest server chips to date, said Diane Bryant, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's Data Center Group, at a media event in San Francisco on Monday.

The chips are based on the Haswell microarchitecture and will replace the Xeon E5-2600 v2 chips, code-named Romley, which accounted for more than 80 percent of Intel server chips shipped in the most recent fiscal quarter.

Servers will deliver faster performance while consuming less power thanks to a number of CPU, storage, memory and networking enhancements, Bryant said.

Servers will also communicate faster, which could help increase performance output in data centers, Bryant said. The server chips are the first to support the faster-performing DDR4 memory and 40GB Ethernet.

The goal is to modernize and automate data center deployment, Bryant said.

By packaging networking and storage technology together, vendors are forcing customers to choose among Intel and server chip competitors, which could include companies making ARM-based products derivatives, said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy, who attended the event. ARM, traditionally strong in mobile devices, licences its chip technology to third party manufacturers.

AppliedMicro, Advanced Micro Devices and other companies that make ARM server products are packaging server processors with networking and storage controllers in system-on-chips.

Talking about Monday's announcements, Moorhead said, "[Intel] took something that was good and they marketed it and positioned it as great. The biggest changes technologically were the additional cores and DDR4. Everything else was the packaging around it."

This is yet another step in Intel's attempt to dominate the data center, and the pressure is on other chip, networking and storage competitors to up their game, Moorhead said.

Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Lenovo, IBM, Huawei and other companies will announce servers based on Intel's new chips.

The Xeon E5-2600 v3 chips, code-named Grantley, triple overall server performance compared to last year's E5-2600 v2 Romley chips. The fastest chips have up to 18 cores, an increase from 12 cores on Romley. In addition, the new chips have up to 45MB of cache, also a 50 percent increase.

Memory, networking and storage enhancements help increase data transfer speeds both on-chip and through servers on a network. Bryant said that performance of installations of Cloudera Hadoop -- the open-source software for storage and processing of data -- could more than double.

Operating at a top frequency of 3.7GHz, the Xeon E5-2600 v3 chips are also the first server chips with support for DDR4, which succeeds the older DDR3. DDR4 memory delivers a 40 percent increase in bandwidth, 35 percent reduction in power consumption and more reliability to reduce data errors compared to DDR3.

The new server chips increase throughput six times, reducing latency by half. Grantley supports 40GB Ethernet, which reduces bottlenecks on network communications in data centers. It also has on-board support for the NVMe protocol, through which solid-state drives can be placed in faster PCI-Express slots. Servers will be able to include SSDs with 2TB of capacity.

Servers will also be easier to manage and cool down, Bryant said.

The chip platforms will have new features to track airflow and temperature. System administrators will also find it easier to track CPU, memory and I/O utilization. Servers will able to feed telemetry data that can be used to fix servers. Servers typically have features to cap performance.

Intel is shipping 32 variants of the Xeon E5-2600 v3 chips, and an additional 20 to specific customers to run custom applications. Pricing for the chips was not immediately available.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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