Hardware

Weeding through server processor options for new models

When administrators purchase servers, processor model is usually an important factor. IT pro Rick Vanover explains how the new Intel products impact purchases.

If I am shopping for a server, I’ve changed my purchasing pattern to not just shop for the latest and greatest. While this seems intuitive, there are a number of reasons to shop for features and integration into existing infrastructure investments today.

Primarily, this stems from my VMware administration practice to deliver servers to a cluster that match the other host’s capabilities. When multiple vSphere clusters are considered, I still keep them the same as much as possible across clusters. This paves the way for future easy decisions should hosts need to be moved from one cluster to another as requirements change.

If you have been shopping for servers lately, you surely have noticed the increased options for server processor selection. Primarily, we have seen the Intel 5600 series processors become available on mainstream servers. This is the product that was called Westmere before it was released. The main feature of the 5600 series of processors is that six cores are available as well as utilizing the new 32 nm processor architecture. Going back a year when we were all gaga over the 45 nm architecture delivered by the Intel 5500 series (Nehalem), this is more than just an incremental update. The 5600 series has a few groups of models, namely the X, L, and E types that will be available in systems as X5680, for example, in a server. Many of these will be available in workstations and notebooks also. To give you a feel for the roadmap of the processors, Figure A below shows the current state of processor offerings: Figure A

Figure A

Click image to enlarge

The new processor is available up to 3.46 GHz as the X5677 model with 4 cores, or another high frequency model is the X5680 at 3.33 GHz with 6 cores. Both of these are 130-watt processors, and there are lower consuming models. Some things are the same, however. This includes memory provisioning aligned per processor, which was a big change that we saw with the 5500 series and that I still find confusing.

So, when it comes to purchasing a new server, administrators need to consider the full picture. Just because the 5600 series is out, it doesn’t mean an investment in the 5500 series is wasted. They are both released at a similar point in time, yet are tied to server life-cycles as well. This does make it confusing as to which model to choose, but if you are starting a new inventory of systems, the 5600 series is a good bet.

Have you purchased any servers with the 5600 series processors yet? If so, share your experiences below.

About

Rick Vanover is a software strategy specialist for Veeam Software, based in Columbus, Ohio. Rick has years of IT experience and focuses on virtualization, Windows-based server administration, and system hardware.

4 comments
gechurch
gechurch

Having memory aligned per processor is not as confusing as it may sound. The concept is called NUMA - Non-uniform memory access. Obviously multi-core processors are common these days, and each core has it's own cache. The basic concept is that it makes sense to keep a thread running on the same core as it was during it's last clise of CPU time, because if you move it to another core you need to grab the contents of the threads registers and cache information from memory further away for that core, which is obviously slower. Windows is coded to understand NUMA, so when it has to make scheduling decisions it keeps track of which core a thread ran on last time, and as much as possible will try to keep that thread on that core. Mark Russinovich has the nack of explaining technical things in a very easy to understand way. I'm sure I heard him talk about NUMA in one of his Technet or channel9 videos - I think it was a video on changes in Server 2008. Well worth checking out if you want to learn about the topic.

bwexler
bwexler

Why is the Opteron not even mentioned? It is available with 6, 8, 12 cores.

b4real
b4real

Which is why I didn't mention it.

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