I find it interesting to contrast Intel’s successes and failures. Intel has generally been successful at finding a way to reduce the cost of a high-cost platform like servers or workstations and provide more value for the money. On the other hand, they largely failed with mobile devices, which were already cost-optimized. Even with a massive investment, all Intel was able to do was essentially cost-match what was already in market. In hindsight, this showcases that that effort was destined to fail.
This week Intel announced the Xeon E7 v4. Perhaps one of their most ambitious processors yet, it was designed to improve the performance of real-time analytics massively. This product class has been tied to some of the most expensive systems in market, and Intel’s goal appears to be to drive down the price of related solutions, making the result far more available to the masses.
The concept of real-time analytics hits rather close to home for me because one of my biggest, and from a career standpoint, most important efforts involved doing analysis on the firm acquiring our division. We had two potential buyers, and we were asked to assess which would be best. We concluded that one of the two buyers would be a huge disaster for the firm. Even though we finished the work a week early, the decision had been made prior to our presentation, and the result went against our recommendation. It was one of the biggest financial disasters of its time. We then became a standing example of this mistake, and our group was defunded as a result.
Being late with critical good advice is, as this example demonstrates, generally worse than being on time with bad advice. In the latter case, the analyst gets the blame. In the former case the analyst has made the executive look bad, and as you’d expect, they don’t like that one little bit.
Shops already doing real-time analytics likely have systems with the prior generation of the E7. The new processor it is plug compatible with the old processor, which provides the opportunity for an in-place hardware upgrade. Granted, you’ll also likely need updated bios and firmware, as well as updates to critical applications to make sure the new features are accessed, but you don’t have to replace the entire server. If you have a lot of these servers, the expense still won’t be trivial but far more palatable than the alternative. This new part also fits within the same thermal envelope as the v3 part, so even with the increased performance, your cooling solution, assuming it was adequate, remains the same.
Loading potential is improved as well, jumping from 18 cores per socket and 36 threads to 24 cores per socket and 48 threads.
Reported performance benefits are around 30 percent above the previous processor version, and that is very significant in a space defined by timely results. Reported third-party validation is from Neusoft (32 percent improvement), SAS (26 percent improvement), Action (100 percent improvement), Asialnfo (27 percent improvement), FIS (27 percent improvement), S&I Engineering (51 percent improvement), and Caterpillar, which reported a whopping 366 percent improvement. Caterpillar is clearly an outlier, but I’m looking into what they did to see if best practices can be found. At the very least they showcase that there may be greater improvements available.
This fourth version of the E7 is a major part of Intel’s effort to bring the cost of scale-up analytics down to a more affordable level, and it is a cost-effective upgrade for systems already in place. But in hew hardware, it can be configured into systems with up to 256 sockets and 24TB of memory capacity, allowing large datasets to be stored completely in memory and massively reducing response times over systems that still have to use conventional drives. This new E7 has 70 percent more encryption performance and Supervisor Mode Access Protection—both critical in an ever more hostile world. Other features include improved hardware-assisted virtualization for cost containment and less overhead in fault-tolerant environments and smarter resource orchestration, so you get more of the performance you paid for.
In the end, the Xeon processor E7 v4 is a major step forward in Intel’s scale-up product family and well worth checking out, particularly if you are currently running E7 v3s.
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