Intel Touts Programmable Xeon Chip Option

Intel looks to capitalise on demand for its server chips by offering programmable Xeon processors

Intel has revealed that big customers like Facebook and eBay can now specify customised versions of the chip giant’s Xeon server chip range.

This option allows these customers to purchase a tailored Xeon processor that is highly optimised for their own individual data centre, server and workload requirements.

Custom Chips

Intel made the announcement at the Gigaom Structure 2014 event in San Francisco on Wednesday. Intel’s general manager of the Data Center and Connected Systems Group, Diane Bryant, labelled the decision to offer customisable versions of the Xeon processors as part of Intel’s overall ‘transformation’, as it seeks to lessen its reliance on the stagnant PC market, and its struggle in the mobile chip sector.

dianebryantintelleadIntel dominates the server chip market and normally sells off-the-shelf Xeon chips. But last year it did manufacture approximately 15 customised versions of those processors to meet the particular needs of high-end customers including eBay and Facebook. It now plans to manufacture over 30 customised chips this year.

“As we have many times in our history, Intel is embracing this transformation and driving technology innovation to re-architect today’s data centres for the future,” wrote Bryant in a blog posting.

“As a first step, we start with a commitment to deliver the best technology for all data centre workloads – spanning servers, network and storage,” she wrote. “We started by augmenting our industry leading, general purpose Xeon processors with workload-optimised products, such as our Atom SoC processors for lightweight web-hosting, Xeon Phi for highly parallel processing, and the new Xeon D SoC series  for hyperscale environments.”

Essentially, Intel is now offering the option to integrate a standard Xeon processor and a chip known as a field-programmable gate array (or FPGA). This allows customers to easily configure or adapt the chip to suit their own particular workloads.

Twice As Fast

“But what we find even more exciting is our next innovation in processor design that can dramatically increase application performance through fully custom accelerators,” wrote Bryant. “We are integrating our industry leading Xeon processor with a coherent FPGA in a single package, socket compatible to our standard Xeon E5 processor offerings.”

She said this programmable option allows customers to “turbo-charge their critical algorithms.”

“Based on industry benchmarks FPGA-based accelerators can deliver >10X performance gains,” she wrote. “By integrating the FPGA with the Xeon processor, we estimate that customers will see an additional 2X in performance thanks to the low latency, coherent interface.”

Bryant also pointed out that Intel is investing heavily in structured and unstructured data, as evidence by its recent decision to discontinue its own Hadoop distribution, and instead partner Cloudera.

“Our recent announcement of our collaboration and partnership with Cloudera is a clear example of our objective to enable the economic value enterprises can obtain through big data insight,” she wrote. “ We are committed to accelerating enterprise feature integration, ease the deployment and deliver optimized solutions for data analytics.”

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