Intel Ships Xeon E5 Chips For Cloud And HPC Servers

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At IDF, Intel said it has begun shipping eight-core Xeon E5 chips based on the “Sandy Bridge” architecture

Intel executives are readying new Xeon E5 “Sandy Bridge” server chips while also reiterating their intention to continue developing the Itanium platform.

During a briefing with journalists and analysts at the Intel Developer Forum, Kirk Skaugen, vice president and general manager of Intel’s Data Centre Group, said that Intel has begun revenue production of the Xeon E5 chip, which will hold up to eight cores and run up to 16 threads per second.

Midrange Servers Targeted

The chip will offer more performance than the current Xeon 5600 “Westmere” processors, introduced last year, including doubling the floating point capabilities and integrating the PCI-Express bus onto the processing, which will boost performance and improve energy efficiency, Skaugen said.

The Xeon E5 “is the most phenomenal chip we’ve delivered to the server market”, he said.

The new chip, aimed at midrange servers with two and four sockets that work in cloud and high-performance computing (HPC) environments, will join the Sandy Bridge-based Xeon E3 for low-end systems and the current higher-end Westmere-based Xeon E7 chips, which offer up to 10 cores and were released in April.

Intel is seeing strong adoption from OEMs for the Xeon E5, with more than 400 system design wins, which is more than twice the number there was for the Xeon 5500 “Nehalem” processors, released in 2009. Skaugen said the rapid adoption of cloud computing and the growth of HPC are driving interest in the new Xeons.

He predicted that within 60 days of launching the chip, 90 percent of Intel’s cloud computing customers will be making plans to transition to the Xeon E5. Servers running the Xeon E5 will begin hitting the market early in 2012, said Skaugen, who expects to sell the chip in “extremely high volumes”.

During a briefing at IDF, John Hengeveld, director of HPC strategies at Intel, said the Xeon E5 will offer significant improvements over current products.

“It’s the foundation of the next-generation data centre,” Hengeveld said.

Affirmation Of Itanium Development

Skaugen said that even as the chip vendor grows its Xeon offerings, it will continue developing its Itanium platform. The company is still on target to release its “Poulson” chip in 2012 as the next generation, which will double the performance of the current Itanium processor. Two years after Poulson will come “Kittson” which will double the performance of Poulson.

He also noted the continuing efforts to enable Itanium and Xeon – though based on different micro-architectures – to share features, including 25 common reliability, availability and serviceability (RAS) capabilities. The result is two strong high-end server platforms, giving enterprises a wider range of options when looking at their workloads.

“It’s really about operating system choice,” Skaugen said.

Intel’s plans for Itanium became the subject of a debate earlier this year when Oracle officials announced Oracle would no longer develop its software for the Itanium platform, claiming Intel would soon be ending development of the technology. Intel executives, including president and CEO Paul Otellini, quickly refuted the claim, saying the chip maker had a roadmap that will carry development through beyond the end of the decade.

Officials with Hewlett-Packard – by far the largest consumer of Itanium processors – called Oracle’s decision a cynical move in hopes of boosting the flagging SPARC hardware portfolio it inherited through its acquisition of Sun Microsystems. Oracle became the third major software vendor to end support of Itanium, joining Microsoft and Red Hat.

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