Labs Verdict: Nehalem Boosts Virtualisation


Intel’s Xeon 5500 processor includes a lot of improvements that will reduce server power demands and allow more virtualisation

Server virtualisation is getting a boost from the newest Intel microprocessor architecture, known as Nehalem.

With an integrated memory controller, an additional memory channel and a slew of performance improvements, Nehalem will enable IT managers to consolidate more virtual machines onto fewer physical systems. The new Intel platform should also be a trigger for IT managers to take a second look at virtualising applications that did not perform well when run on VMs hosted on the previous generation of Intel server chips.

Data centre managers anticipating server and virtualisation implementations or upgrades should start testing Nehalem-based systems to gauge performance and compatibility.

With VMware ESX 4.0 expected to ship sometime this year, now is the time to begin the evaluation process to see how Intel’s newest processor platform might fit in your data centre. eWEEK Labs will be testing servers based on Nehalem as soon as they become available, so watch for our hands-on test results.

Performance capabilities in the Nehalem microarchitecture — whose formal name is the Intel Xeon 5500 series — will shift the limiting factors that currently govern server virtualisation from purely physical considerations of CPU, memory and network bandwidth. The new limit will very likely be the amount of risk an organisation is willing to take by putting many virtual eggs in a single physical basket.

The considerable advances in the Intel Nehalem chip design include Turbo mode, in which the processor frequency can be controlled based on workload, and hyperthreading — a function resurrected from the Intel Pentium 4 processor and now called “simultaneous multithreading.” These changes set the stage for new advances in server virtualisation, but not a new benchmark — Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices has had integrated memory controllers for some time in its Opteron server chips.

Virtualisation heavyweight VMware has been a close partner of both Intel and AMD to ensure that CPU advances can improve VM performance with the goal of constantly reducing the difference between physical and virtual machines.

IT managers also should note that the newly minted Cisco Unified Computing System server blades, which were announced on March 15, launched using only Intel Nehalem-based processors. Cisco is hoping that data center managers will be compelled by this platform, on which it has packaged compute, storage, network, memory and server virtualisation in a unified chassis.