Intel's new Xeon E7 marks the end of Itanium

There's really no reason to buy an Itanium any more now that the top of the Xeon line is pretty much the same chip.

One of the surest signs that an Intel product is doomed is its omission from the Intel Developer's Forum, and Intel has not talked about Itanium at that show for at least three or four years now. So while they will deny it, Intel has doomed the Itanium by omission.

But while Itanium slowly slips below the waves, what would be its replacement? The answer to that came Tuesday when Intel introduced the Xeon E7 V2 processor, codenamed "Ivy Town." The 15-core processor is built for huge data sets and massive memory bandwidth, the one advantage that still remained for mainframes and high-end RISC servers.

The Xeon E7 V2 is a chip built for massive data sets, and Intel has Big Data on its mind with its own Hadoop distribution called the Intel Data Platform, a custom Hadoop distribution with tools and common algorithms, graphs and network-based clustering for different industries, like financial services, healthcare and retail.

The E7 V2 has a whole slew of tweaks here and there, such as jumping from 10 cores to 15 and various improvements to its RAS (Reliability, Availability, Scalability) support, speed and power draw, but the big leap over past generations is in its ability to support larger amounts of memory. The E7 could access 512GB of memory per core, while the V2 triples that, offering 1.5TB of memory per core.

This translates to a 6TB of memory in a four-socket configuration or 12TB in the high-end eight-socket configuration, important for the latest trend, in-memory databases and analytics. With memory so cheap and so dense and such a high overhead in 64-bit computing, vendors and customers alike have been pushing toward in-memory compute scenarios of what had traditionally been loaded off the hard drive as needed.

Big iron is not defined by chips alone, however, and over the last few generations, E7-based servers have closed the performance and reliability gap with Itanium, IBM's Power servers and mainframes, and what's left of Oracle's UltraSparc business. The fact is these servers have the uptime promise for mission critical systems of big iron, but they also offer the openness of an x86 platform.

When you buy IBM Power servers, you do get a high-performance server with that coveted five 9s of uptime, no question. But you'll also get it from HP's ProLiants, Oracle Sun Servers and SGI Altix servers, and soon the eX5 servers from Lenovo now that IBM had ditched them, so you are free to shop around. That gives you some price competition and flexibility in buying.

When it comes to total cost of ownership, it makes Xeon much more competitive. The Power platform is from one vendor who sets their own prices and support comes from them. Xeon means many choices.

So, with the E7 V2, x86 may finally break down the top tier of computing and move into space previously held by RISC systems. I never thought I would see it happen.

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