Intel's launch of Xeon 7400 processors this week marked yet another great product from Intel that simply delivers to basic virtualization infrastructure need of a datacenter. In my view, what sets Intel apart is the consistency with which Intel has been providing the hardware capabilities essential for virtualization adoption and acceleration. These hardware capabilities have delivered incremental power efficient performance for virtualization and platform wide solution that makes virtualization adoption efficient.
Just drawing a year back Xeon 7300 processors based platforms when launched set industry leading performance results for virtualization for 4 Socket mainstream servers. Now, Xeon 7400 series processor with six cores and built on energy efficient 45nm technology, provides the industry best performance for virtualization for 4 Socket mainstream servers. On VMware's VMmark, Xeon 7400 scaled up the performance (over best published Xeon 7300 score) by appx 35% (). On Hyper-v with vConsolidate virtualization benchmark Xeon 7400 delivered 40% better performance and 52% better performance per watt (over Xeon 7300) as published at . This performance trend is fairly similar to how 45nm Quad Core Xeon 5400 (launched Q4 '07) delivered up to 20% performance over Quad Core Xeon 5300 (launched Q4 '06) in 2 Socket space. The key to IT managers from my view point are not just these statistics in performance but also the ability to get these performance increments on a predictive cadence with in the same power envelope. Socket based virtualization software means better TCO as well.
In the same vein of performance I mentioned platform solutions for efficient deployment as the key element of these hardware capabilities. Now efficient deployments of virtualization and emerging usage models of virtualization require performance and some more... what I refer as capabilities. But why?. It requires some simple understanding.
New emerging usage models of virtualization beyond consolidation, referred as virtualization 2.0, like load balancing, high availability and disaster recovery (HA/DR) require resource pooling. Once these resource pools are architected within the datacenter the IT managers do not typically want to change them just because they want to add new generation of servers to the resource pool (and retire a few older ones). To support this requirement Intel delivered a new capability called Intel VT FlexMigration (). With appropriate software support like Enhanced VMotion in VMware ESX 3.5 update 2, IT managers can simply roll in a Xeon 7400 processor based server with Core Microarchitecture based previous generation servers (like Xeon 5300, 5100, 7300 series processors) already in a resource pool.
Another requirement for efficiency in highly utilized servers as in the case of large consolidation or load balancing is robust and efficient networking solution that supports the increased processing capability. Load balancing and HA/DR usage model in particular rely on VM's moving over the network. Efficient networking solution means efficient virtualization 2.0 usage model deployment. Intel networking adapters that can be used on even the Xeon 7400 based servers has a feature known as VMDq, which can accelerate the networking performance. On a 10GbE NIC using ESX 3.5 update 1 software, VMDq delivered >2x the improvement in throughput, which means higher performance and also VMDq being a hardware assist reduces the VMM overhead relieving the CPU cycles for applications to run more than VMM. New Ethernet adapters also add QoS capabilities like bandwidth allocation that could provide even better control in terms of latency and traffic.
Finally the virtualization 2.0 usage models rely heavily on centralized storage. Becoz when VM is moved from one physical server to another server in the resource pool, if the entire resource pool had a ubiquitous view of the data a VM was using, then the transition and resuming of VM on any server in the pool would be fast and seamless. Hence cost effective centralized storage connectivity would be very desirable for these virtualization 2.0 usage models. Intel hence has been a leading force in working with industry standards to make Ethernet robust and developing Fiber Channel over Ethernet standards and products that can carry both SAN and LAN traffic on the same fabric.
Collectively, all these highlight how Intel is showcasing leadership in products that matter to both consolidation and usage models of virtualization 2.0 beyond consolidation.