When Xeon 5500 series “Nehalem” servers are just not enough…

Sure, Intel® Xeon® 5500 Series Processors represent a quantum leap forward in terms of both performance and energy efficiency. That has been proven in a number of test results and reviews.  But for your back-end data demanding enterprise app deployments, large scale server consolidation or virtualization of business critical applications, Intel® Xeon 7400 series processors offer outstanding performance and performance per watt in 4-socket servers. So, which platform do you choose, especially when this decision is likely going to be the key determining factor for capital savings, efficiency and TCO for your datacenter infrastructure? Well, you’re read a lot about Xeon 5500 series Nehalem servers over the last few weeks.  Let me share with you some reasons to consider a Xeon 7400 series 4-socket server when you are presented with the choice between Intel’s two best of breed products for virtualization.

4 Socket and above servers (Xeon 7400) are purpose built – just like a large truck: They’re purpose built for your most data demanding enterprise applications like database and ERP, and for large scale server consolidation using virtualization. Large Trucks are also purpose built.  They’re purpose built for hauling large loads over long distances.   Now, you don’t buy a large truck to commute to work in.  You also don’t take your everyday commuter and attempt to haul large loads with it, because if you did you would be significantly undersized (you’ve all seen those cars on the road with rear tires about ready to pop under the weight of a palette of heavy goods tied on top). 

More Resources Matter for 4 Socket MP Workloads:
The apps/workloads listed above benefit from the expanded feature set associated with 4 Socket Xeon 7400 based servers: more processors (4 vs. 2), more cores (24 vs. 8), more memory (32 dimms vs. 18 dimms), more I/O capacity (7 slots vs. 4) and larger cache (16MB vs. 8MB).  These features and what they enable are why MP Server buying patterns have remained stable with IT for the last 5 years and will continue to be stable for the foreseeable future according to IDC. 

But in today’s economy there may be MP customers out there that will want to push the envelope and attempt to deploy lesser expensive 2S systems for traditional 4S solutions. Would doing so pencil out from a TCO perspective? Let’s take a look at two Virtualization usage examples and find out.

Large Scale Server Consolidation: Where almost 2x the memory matters.

In this scenario, IT Manager is dealing with numerous corporate acquisitions across the country prior to the economic downturn, with servers that now need to be consolidated to cut costs quickly.  Goal is to convert 1000 older underutilized 2S servers.  He (she) converts these to 1000 VMs and transfers them electronically to the central Data Center.   He determines that these infrastructure apps when consolidated generally run into memory constraints before they run into processor constraints, so for his candidate solutions he compares a 4 Socket Server with Xeon X7460 processors vs. a new 2 Socket server with Xeon X5570 processors.   He fully loads both systems with 4GB dimms (128GB on 4S vs. 72GB on 2S), and assigns 4GBs memory for each VM deployed (enabling 32VMs per server resulting in 31 new 4S servers vs. 18 VMs per server resulting in 56 new 2S Servers.)

Now, he only propagates the 4S Solution with 2 Xeon 7400 Processors, which allows the IT manager to still use all 128GB of memory on the 4S Servers while paying lower VMWare licensing costs.  Price these systems out on Dell, HP, IBM’s or Sun’s website, and the Xeon X7460 servers will be in the $15k-$20k range vs. the Xeon X5570 based servers will be in the $10k-$12k range (i.e. roughly 1.5x higher for 4S vs. 2S server).  Add VMWare license costs, power/cooling, LAN/SAN cabling, and system maintenance costs and you’ll see the 4S solutions offer a lower cost per VM.

Virtualizing Business Critical Workloads: Where 3x the Processor Cores matter.

In the previous example, we were looking to maximize consolidation ratios.  In this example, we’re looking to achieve predictable high performance for a business critical app.  Solutions like ERP that are put into a virtualized environment perform best when run without oversubscription, where you set the same number of virtual CPUs to equal the number of physical cores available on the platform.  This helps deliver relatively more predictable performance for all VMs and is the way that IT@Intel intends to deploy ERP in a virtualized environment as they begin to test this moving forward (read more about this in the new whitepaper).  In this example, we’ll convert ~100 non-production ERP instances (i.e. the instances used for QA, Dev, and Production break fix).  We’ll assign 2 virtual CPUs and 8GB memory for each instance.  The four-socket Xeon 7400 processor based systems (with 96GB memory) will have a total of 24 cores and will have a list price of about $25k.  This allows us to run 12 Virtual Machines without oversubscription on the MP Servers and enables 100 ERP instances to be consolidated down to about 8 MP (4 Socket) servers.  Since the Xeon 5500 based Servers just have 8-cores, the IT manager decides to avoid oversubscription and deploys 4 virtual machines – consolidating down to 25 DP (2 Socket) servers with 32GB Memory and a list price of about $8k per server.  Include the costs of the hardware, VMware ESX license costs, power/cooling, cabling, and Server maintenance – the MP (4 Socket) solution here would also offer a lower cost/vm than the Xeon 5500 based DP (2 Socket) solution due to having 3x the processor cores on 4 Socket.

When you are deploying your most data demanding enterprise applications and implementing large scale server consolidation, Xeon 7400 based servers represent a very intelligent choice. 

Let me know what you think.