SANTA CLARA, Calif. Big data centers are preparing for a shift to 10 Gbit/s Ethernet, according to a panel of end users who are testing Intel's just announced Xeon 5500 processors. Some also voiced interest in GPU processing, but said the technology lacks standards.
Keith Gray, a director of high-performance and technical computing at BP said the new Xeon 5500 could provide the muscle to push 10G Ethernet out to the edge of the company's networks. BP manages an estimated 200 teraflops of computing power, and is testing the new Intel chip.
IT executives from eBay and Savvis said they are preparing road maps to move to 10GE. "We are actively moving to 10G at the access layer, and will be in beta release this summer of a new cloud computing offering using Fibre Channel over Ethernet [FCoE]," said Josh Crowe, vice president of product engineering for Savvis, a computer outsourcing company that runs 100 data centers.
Savvis aims to deliver a high-end cloud service that offers firewall, load balancing and service-level agreements. It is testing Cisco Systems' recently announced Unified Computing Systems (UCS) based on FCoE.
Cisco gave the first public look at its UCS system at an event hosted by Intel here to debut its Xeon 5500. David Lawler, a vice president of product management at Cisco showed all but one piece of the system—a novel blade debuting in April that extends the system memory of the 5500 CPU.
As expected, Intel showed at the event a new 10Gbit Ethernet controller supporting some FCoE functions in software. The company has not yet set pricing for the 5.5W card that will be available in the fall.
The 10GE chips are starting to appear on server blade cards, said Tom Swinford, general manager of Intel's LAN division. But the technology will not be widespread until 10GBase-T physical layer chips for copper connections come down significantly in power consumption and cost to enable use in rack and pedestal systems. That will happen in about two years, he said.
A representative for Sun Microsystems on hand for the launch, said the company has its own aggressive plans for networking in its Xeon 5500 blade, rack and workstation products that will debut on April 14.
Separately, Gray of BP and a Dreamworks executive on hand expressed interest in accelerators based on parallel graphics chips that could handle some of their technical computing jobs. But they said the industry needs to develop standards to make it easier to program the systems and move software between graphics accelerators and general-purpose servers.
"The level of programming difficulty and lack of standards in tools make move to GPU systems risky," said Gray of BP. "Once programming interfaces are better standardized and it becomes easier to move data back and forth from general purpose systems to graphics accelerators, we will be more interested," he said.
The Dreamworks executive said the company will test out Intel's upcoming graphics processor called Larrabee as well as other architectures. The animation company likes the fact Larrabee and Xeon processors will share Intel's new Quick Path Interconnect, similar x86 cores and that they ultimately become integrated in one piece of silicon, he said.
Patrick Gelsinger, general manager of Intel's digital enterprise group, said the server business is "a bit healthier than the overall unhealthy market." Some companies are replacing servers at a faster rate than in the past, he added.
Gelsinger called the 730-million transistor 5500 chip, "the most important server launch since the Pentium Pro in 1995" in terms of its performance. As many as 70 vendors are working on 230 different designs using the chip which has been in production since December, he added.
Besides big server makers, the OEMs include telecom system companies such as Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Hua Wei, Nortel and ZTE using embedded versions of the chip running at 38 and 60W.
Gelsinger claimed as many as 100 applications have been optimized for the 5500. He showed a range of benchmarks demonstrating performance boosts from 70 to 160 percent over Intel previous architecture, the highest in virtualization performance.
Based on a basket of four benchmarks, he claimed the 5500 provided 1.7 times the performance of Sun Microsystems UltraSparc T2 Niagara at half the cost, and 2.45 times the performance of IBM;s Power CPUs at a tenth the cost.
"This is the best two-socket CPU, period," said Gelsinger. "We are burying Sparc and Power is left in the dust," he said.