Kevin Houston recently asked which Intel Xeon 5500-series processor was most popular for running VMWare. My short answer: Probably the 2.26GHz Xeon E5520. Long answer follows...
Intel makes more than a dozen different speeds of the Xeon 5500 series processor. Why so many? One reason is that Intel divides them up into three different groups, based on their features. Within each group, there's 3 or 4 different models, each with a different CPU clock frequency.
The Advanced group of processors include full-speed links & features; the Standard have the features but slower links, and the Basic group lacks Hyper-Threading & Turbo Boost:
|Category||QPI throughput||Memory speed||Hyper-Threading||Max Turbo Boost|
|Advanced||6.40 GT/s||1333 MT/s||Yes||+400 MHz|
|Standard||5.86 GT/s||1066 MT/s||Yes||+266 MHz|
|Basic||4.80 GT/s||800 MT/s||No||None|
So which ones are popular for virtualization? I found a good proxy for estimating this: searching for how often each model is mentioned in the VMWare community forums. There, four models rise to the top: The E5504, the E5520, the X5550, and the X5570. The E5520 gets the winner's ribbon for most-mentioned.
Why these four? I believe 3 of the 4 are popular because they're the best price/performance within each of Intel's groups. The last get attention because it's the fastest generally-available Xeon 5500 processor.
To show why the price/performance stands out for the E5504 (a "Basic" processor), E5520 (a "Standard"), and X5550 (an "Advanced"), compare Intel's "1ku" list price (basically their bulk-rate prices) to a processor-oriented benchmark result. I've picked the SPECcpu2006 integer rate benchmark for two reasons: One, it's an established benchmark with lots of published results, and two, the benchmark it's so processor-focused that you usually get the same results no matter what server -- or server vendor -- you use.
I created a Yahoo Pipe that scrapes benchmark results from SPEC.org and processor list prices from Intel, then plots them using a Google chart. Just for fun, I've listed the latest 2-processor AMD Opteron results too. Here's a link to the pipe itself (it's actually a series of pipes.) Although the Yahoo pipe is dynamic, on this blog I'm just going to post a static picture of the chart that it produces:
Each processor model is plotted by list price (vertical axis) and cpu2006_rate (horizontal axis). The further right on the chart, the more performance; the further up, the more expensive.
You'll notice that the results fall into three vertical bands, with the dual-core E5502 as an outlier. Within each band, the SPECint results don't change much, but the price does:
That means within these bands, you might as well pick the cheapest processor, because you don't get much extra horsepower by moving to a pricier CPU. What are the cheapest within each band? It's those 3 models that get all the discussion on the VMWare forums.
As I said, the fourth popular model is the X5570, which is the fastest "normal" Xeon 5500 series processor. (The two W-model processors are actually faster, but since they're geared toward workstations and not servers, they're not as commonly available.) So what makes the E5520 the apparent king of the popularity contest? Probably because it's the cheapest Xeon 5500 processor that's got Hyper-Threading.
So how does this VMWare Communities "proxy" compare to what processors HP ships on its ProLiant servers? Well, it's pretty close. Across all ProLiant servers, six models stand out: the four above, plus the E5540 (a "Standard") and the L5520 (a special Low-Power "Standard").
If you just consider ProLiant server blades, the E5504 drops off that short-list, while the L5520 gets a lot of use, and the X5570 gets heavier representation than my "VMWare communities proxy" would suggest. This makes sense to me, since folks deploying blades tend to be more interested in power-reducing and maximum-performance features.
Here's my count-down of the top technologies that will have the most impact on servers in 2010.
10. DDR3L - The JEDEC spec for low-voltage DDR-3 memory came out last year, but 2010 should mark significant adoption of these 1.35-volt DIMMs. Since the memory in a modern, high-memory server can consume more power than the processors, DDR3L will play a key role in helping solve data center power consumption and capacity problems.
9. Oracle Fusion Applications - Currently in beta testing, Oracle Fusion Apps is an evolutionary step in Oracle's piecing together of key technologies from its "standard" products with those it recently acquired, like PeopleSoft and Siebel. In some cases, I expect we'll be learning (and managing) applications that are effectively brand-new.
8. Tukwila and Power7 - The UNIX-oriented mission-critical processors grow beyond dual-core, and get hefty caches shared between cores. Intel expects to bring its Itanium into production in the first part of 2010, while published roadmaps from IBM also put Power7 in the 2010 timeframe.
7. RHEL6 - I haven't seen schedules from Red Hat showing RH Enterprise Linux futures, but based on their plan to move RHEL5 into "phase 2" of their lifecycle in early 2011 (that's basically the "no new features, just bug fixes" phase), 2010 would be the logical year for this virtualization-tuned generation of the OS. Fedora 11 and 12 (now released) were the planned "feature previews" for RHEL6, so we'll see.
6. SPEC virtualization benchmark - I'm making another guess at roadmaps to predict the SPEC Virtualization committee might reveal its plans for a benchmark in 2010. (HP is a committee member, though I'm not personally involved in that; as always on this blog, I'm speaking for myself and not for HP.) VMMark is a great tool, but the SPEC benchmark should boost our ability to do vendor-agnostic comparisons of virtualization systems.
5. SAS SSDs - Solid state drives with a SATA interface have been available for a couple of years in servers. (I think IBM was the first to use them as internal drives on blades.) However, servers have traditionally relied on performance & reliability advantages that the SAS protocol brings, and so SAS SSDs are really going to help bring SSDs into everyday use inside servers.
4. Nehalem-EX - The benefits of an integrated memory controller and hyper-threading that emerged with the Intel Xeon 5000 processor will be available to servers with more than 2 processors. Plus, with bigger cache and a beefier memory subsystem, performance will be impressive -- Intel says Nehalem-EX will bring the "largest performance leap in Xeon history".
3. CEE 'ratified' - Converged Enhanced Ethernet (CEE) is the final piece to enable a standardized Fibre-Channel over Ethernet (FCoE). This carries the possibility of effectively eliminating an entire fabric from data centers, so there's much-anticipated cost savings and flexibility boosts. Actually, there is no single "CEE" standard; but the key final pieces (the 802.1Qbb and 802.1az standards from IEEE) are targeted for final ratification around mid-2010.
2. Win2003 Server End of Mainstream Support - There are really only two reasons to upgrade an OS: You want some new feature, or the old one can't be patched. For those who are relying on Windows 2003, the chance of the latter happening is about to get larger in 2010, so expect a lot more pressure to upgrade older systems to Server 2008.
1. Magny-Cours processor - Twelve-core x86 processors; enough said. Actually, maybe not: AMD's next-gen Opteron has other performance-boosting features (like additional memory channels), and Magny-Cours will be available for 2-processor as well as 4+ processor servers at the same time. What else? I'm impressed with John Fruehe's comments about AMD's plans to enable 4P performance with 2P economics. I predict Magny-Cours will be the big story in 2010.
Top-ten lists don't seem complete without honorable mentions, so here are my two: Ratification of the PCI Express 3.0 spec, and Microsoft's Madison / Parallel Data Warehouse extension of its SQL server line.
And finally, one new product that almost, but thankfully didn't, appear on this list: The 0.0635 meter hard drive. The EU's Metric Directive , which comes into effect in 2010, originally prohibited publishing specs in anything but metric units. Among other things, that could have lead to a renaming of 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch hard drives. Luckily, later modifications to the EU rules mean the "0.0636 meter drive" won't make its appearance -- at least in 2010.
In April, SPEC updated their server power benchmark to allow results for blade servers, and now HP has released its first blade result.
HP just published a SPECpower_ssj2008 result for the HP BL280c G6 server blade. It's the top score for a blade. I talked to Kari Kelley, the BL280c product manager, and she called it a "solid kill."
The kill comment made more sense after Kari explained she played division-1 volleyball while at Texas A&M. "A kill is a good thing," she assured me.
SPEC didn't open up that benchmark to blades until their SPECpower_ssj2008 V1.10 came out this spring. For a multi-node system (like a blade infrastructure), the benchmark has to be run with a full set of servers -- so a c7000 enclosure filled with 16 BL280c servers in HP's case. Power is measured at the AC line voltage source, while the test itself monitors throughput and power usage at various performance levels, including periods when the servers are 100% idle. HP has written this whitepaper that talks more about the benchmark methodology.
For the BL280c G6 server, the overall result was 1877 ssj_ops/watt. Full details here. For full details about kills, along with sets and spikes, you'll have to talk to Kari.
SPEC and the benchmark name SPECpower_ssj are trademarks of the Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation. The latest SPECpower_ssj2008 benchmark results are available on the SPEC website at http://www.spec.org/power_ssj2008.