The Big Intel Xeon Just Got Bigger

The Xeon E7 was released on April 5th - Now the SGI server here in our lab can now support 320 threads on 160 cores to process data along with its 512GB of RAM (expandable to 4TB with the existing configuration!).  And this beast can be expanded to 5120 threads on 256 cores.

What a long strange trip it’s been.  30 years ago I stood in a semicircular crowd around a foldup table where a new IBM PC sat.  It had 64KB of RAM, a tape port (for storing data on a cassette tape), and a 5 ¼ inch floppy drive (no 8 inch floppies for this baby).

IBM PC.jpg

This IBM PC sported an Intel 8088 processor, (8 bit bus for the 16 bit 8086 processor), and it was amazing.   I was working for FORTH, Inc then and I was impressed.  The Intel Architecture has moved so far from those days of the Intel 8086.


But enough of the past; the present holds great potential and a lot of water has gone under the bridge.  The Xeon E7 brings AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) encryption and decryption right into the core where this security capability can run with nearly no apparent latency for the application.  The recent theft of the email addresses from Epsilon demonstrates the dangers in storing data in plain character format.

Many enterprises have shied away from database encryption due to the inherent latency in decrypt and encrypt process.  This process is handled either through software or an accelerator card on the PCI bus.   This builds in latency that can have an effect on the application meeting SLA response time requirements.However, with encrypted data in a database the only time the data is exposed in human readable format is when it is being placed into the client systems and then it is limited to the immediate data at hand instead of the entire data set being exposed.  This is a significant security enhancement for mission critical applications.  Now, with the Xeon Processor E7 family this trade-off between living with significant latency for security or living with no encryption at all is gone.  Corporate Security Officers and developers don’t have to go through those ‘cost – benefit’ breakdowns any longer.

Another big gain for System Administrators and Corporate Security Officers is the inclusion of Trusted Execution Technology (TXT) into the processor.   This TXT process ensures that an application or virtual machine is spawned in only a ‘known good’ environment.  Like current anti-virus ware that looks for ‘known bad’ signatures in the software, a process that can be charitably described as leap-frog between the virus writers and security vendors, the TXT in the core looks for a ‘known good’ signature in the new platform by comparing the configuration of the new hosting platform to a signature of the corporation’s standard platform.

And now, with the 32 nanometer process, Intel has been able to squeeze 10 cores on to one processor along with accelerated I/O features and other enhancements.   Each core is dual threaded so the operating system sees 20 cores.  Look at Task Manager in Windows or /proc/cpuinfo in Linux.  With one 4 socket machine you’ll see 80 cores.

E7 Cores.jpg

All this brings me to the point of explaining the taxonomy here.

  • A 4 socket machine has 4 NUMA nodes
    • Each Socket has one chip or processor
      • Each chip or processor has 10 physical cores
        • Each Core has two threads for 20 threads per socket
          • The operating system sees each thread as a core.
  • Whew - Each of these threads blows away the Xeon cores of the past in speed, reliability, and security.

A rough heuristic

That IBM PC I brought up at the beginning of this blog is now 30 years old.  At first it was viewed as a hobbyists toy like the TRS-80 from Radio Shack.  But businesses found the IBM PC expandable and Intel, following Moore’s Law, began the march to ever smaller and more powerful processors giving the consumer and business user more bang for their buck.   The old 8086 architecture is barely recognizable in these modern processors.

Now the SGI machine in the lab here will have hit the world record performance in SPECint_rate_base2006 of 27,900 (as soon as we finish swapping out the Xeon 7500’s and installing the E7s – yes they are socket compatible with a BIOS update).