What does Intel's Xeon E7 mean to your datacenter?

Dual-socket servers with massive memory support hit the sweet spot for the datacenter upgragde path.
Written by David Chernicoff, Contributor on

With the revamp of the Xeon processor line and its claims of performance gains and energy savings I've been receiving the expected avalanche of press releases from various vendors announcing everything from their new serves based on these latest CPUs to the announcements of new world records in performance benchmarks, making use of vendor software on Intel's new Xeon or hardware running those benchmarks, or a combination of both. At the same time I'm getting stories about how flat IT datacenter spending is, and that while the market continues to grow, there has been little, if any, increase in IT budgets. So what does this mean to you and the latest CPUs for your datacenter?

One of the telling items about almost every press release and news story I've seen is that they don't contain any pricing information.  This is usually the case with enterprise server hardware announcements, especially early in the product cycles, but with the rather steep cost of the flagship 10-core E7 processor hitting over $4600 in quantities of 1000, it's not surprising that vendors are a little hesitant to be quoting prices for hardware designed to use multiple of these very pricey CPUs.

Cisco was pretty much the first vendor out of the gate with news about their new forthcoming server lines, and with the official announcement of the CPUs was quick to point out that they held the majority of the performance benchmarks that Intel was showcasing at launch time. Dell and HP have announced new server products that, unsurprisingly, claim new levels of performance and energy efficiency, and oracle in an excellent example of why they don't understand how to be a hardware vendor, showcases their new Sun Fire systems with a world record for a 4-way box on the SPECjb2005 benchmark while previously joining Cisco to announce their combined world record (Oracle software/Cisco server hardware) on the SPECjEnterprise2010 benchmark, in I presume, an attempt to prove that they aren't competing for hardware sales with their software partners. I'm sure this vote of confidence will do wonders for the sales of their Sun Fire X86 servers.

So if you have systems that are running flat out and need more headroom, or have major analytics or business intelligence systems that need more oomph, you're likely the perfect customer for the top of the Intel E7 processors. But what about the majority of us, who are just looking to improve our bottom line gradually, as we age out older systems and update our infrastructure? From where I sit the most interesting announcements are those, so far, from Dell and Cisco.  Their product lines now include dual-socket systems that architecturally support the memory you used to need to buy a 4-way box to get; 32 DIMM slots.

With virtualization and a pair of 8 or 10 core systems, these boxes will hit the sweet spot of the virtualized datacenter.  Plenty of horsepower, the ability to support multiples of even high-use VMs and a reasonable price for purchase will make systems in this class the logical choice for replacing older, much less capable hardware, giving the all too common problem of  ‘I'm running a 4-way box now, but a new one is too big a hit on my budget."

This hardware class isn't getting the play that the fastest and biggest new hardware is seeing, but it's the perfect place for most datacenter IT to start their evaluation.

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