Eye on Blades Blog: Trends in Infrastructure
Get HP BladeSystem news, upcoming event information, technology trends, and product information to stay up to date with what is happening in the world of blades.

AMD's HT Assist on Intel processors?

Do Intel Xeon processors have a similar feature to “HT Assist” in the AMD Opteron? Short answer: No. Long answer: Noooooooooooooo.

Behind the Scenes at the InfoWorld Blade Shoot-Out

When the sun set over Waikiki, HP BladeSystem stood as the victor of InfoWorld 2010 Hawaii Blade Shoot-Out.  Editor Paul Venezia blogged about HP's gear sliding off a truck, but other behind-the-scenes pitfalls meant the world's #1 blade architecture nearly missed the Shoot-Out entirely.
 
Misunderstandings about the test led us to initially decline the event, but by mid-January we'd signed on. Paul's rules were broad: Bring a config geared toward "virtualization readiness" that included at least 4 blades and either fibre or iSCSI shared storage.  Paul also gave us copy of the tests he would run, which let vendors select and tune their configurations.  Each vendor would get a 2- or 3-day timeslot on-site in Hawaii for Paul to run the tests himself, plus play around with the system's management features.  HP was scheduled for the first week of March.


In late January we got the OK to bring pre-released equipment. Luckily for Paul, Dell, IBM, and HP all brought similar 2-socket server blades with then unannounced Intel Xeon 5670 processors ("Westmere").  We scrambled to come up with the CPUs themselves; at the time, HP's limited stocks were all in use to support Intel's March announcement.


HP BladeSystem at InfoWorld Blade Shoot-OutHP's final config: One c7000 enclosure, four ProLiant BL460c G6 server blades with VMWare ESX and using 6-core Xeon processors and 8GB LVDIMMs. Two additional BL460c G6's with StorageWorks SB40c storage blades for shared storage; a Virtual Connect Flex-10 module, and a 4Gb fibre switch. (We also had a 1U KVM console and an external MSA2000 storage array just in case, but ended up not using them.)


To show off some power-reducing technology, we used solid state drives in the storage blades, and low-voltage memory in the server nodes.  HP recently added these Samsung-made "Green" DDR3 DIMMs that use 2Gb-based DRAMS built with 40nm technology. LV DIMMs can run at 1.35 volts (versus the normal 1.5 volts), so that they "ditch the unnecessary energy drain" (as Samsung's Sylvie Kadivar put it recently).


Our pre-built system left Houston three days before I did, but it still wasn't there when I landed in Honolulu Sunday afternoon. We had inadvertently put the enclosure into an extra-large Keal case (a hard-walled shipping container) which was too tall to fit in some aircraft. It apparently didn't fit the first cargo flight.  Or the second one.  Or the third one...


Sunday evening, already stressed about our missing equipment, the four of us from HP met in the home of our Hawaiian host, Brian Chee of the University of Hawaii's Advanced Network Computing Laboratory.  Our dinnertime conversation generated additional stress: We realized that I'd mis-read the lab's specs, and we'd built our c7000 enclosure with 3-phase power inputs that didn't match the lab's PDUs.  Crud.  


We nevertheless headed to the lab on Monday, where we spotted the rats-nest of cables intended to connect power meters to the equipment.  Since our servers still hadn't arrived, two of the HP guys fetched parts from a nearby Home Depot, then built new junction boxes that would both handle the "plug conversion" to the power whips, plus provide permanent (and much safer) test points for power measurements. 


Meanwhile, we let Paul get a true remote management experience on BladeSystem.   I VPN'd into HP's corporate network, and pointed a browser to the Onboard Administrator of an enclosure back in a Houston lab.   Even with Firefox (Paul's choice of browser), controlling an enclosure that's 3000 miles distant is still simple.


Moments Before Disaster...Mid-morning on day #2, Paul got a cell call from the lost delivery truck driver.  After chasing him down on foot, we hauled the shipping case on to the truck's hydraulic lift...which suddenly lurched under the heavy weight, spilling the wheels off of the side, and nearly sending the whole thing crashing onto the ground.  It still took a nasty jolt.


 


Some pushing and shoving got the gear to the Geophysics building's piston-driven, hydraulic elevator, then up to the 5th floor.  (I suppose I wouldn't want to be on that elevator when the "Low Oil" light turns on!)


 


We unpacked and powered up the chassis, but immediately noticed a health warning light on one blades.  We quickly spotted the problem; a DIMM had popped partway out.  Perhaps not coincidently, it was the blade that took the greatest shock when the shipping container had slipped from the lift.


With everything running (whew), Paul left the lab for his "control station", an Ubuntu-powered notebook in an adjoining room.  Just as he sat down to start deploying CentOS images to some of the blades...wham, internet access for the whole campus blinked out.  It didn't affect the testing itself, but it caused other network problems in the lab. 


An hour later, those problems were solved, and performance tests were underway.  It went quick.  Next, some network bandwidth tests.   Paul even found some the time to run some timed tests to evaluate Intel's new AES-NI instructions, using timed test with some OpenSSL tools.


Day #3 brought us a new problem.  HP's Onboard Administrator records actual power use, but Paul wanted independent confirmation of the numbers.  (Hence, the power meters and junction box test-points.) But the lab's meters couldn't handle redundant three-phase connections.  An hour of reconfiguration and recalculation later, we found a way to corroborate measurements.  (In the end, I don't think Paul published power numbers, though he may have factored them into his ratings.)


We rapidly re-packed the equipment at midday on day #3 so that IBM could move into the lab. Paul was already drafting  his article as we said "Aloha", and headed for the beach -- err, I mean, back to the office.


 Paul Venezia (left) and Brian Chee with the HP BladeSystem c7000.


 View toward the mountains from the rooftop "balcony" behind Brian's lab



 

The Xeon E5520: Popular for VMWare

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 X5570The 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.

Labels: Intel| price| SPEC| xeon
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  • More than 25 years in the IT industry developing and managing marketing programs. Focused in emerging technologies like Virtualization, cloud and big data.
  • I am a member of the Enterprise Group Global Marketing team blogging on topics of interest for HP Servers. Check out blog posts on all four Server blog sites-Reality Check, The Eye on Blades, Mission Critical Computing and Hyperscale Computing- for exciting news on the future of compute.
  • I work within EMEA HP Servers Central Team as a launch manager for new products and general communications manager for EMEA HP Server specific information. I also tweet @ServerSavvyElla
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