Your future data center – is it bigger than a breadbox?

These are dog years for servers.   Pretty much every year Intel introduces a new Xeon processor.  Those who have heard the story recognize this as the Tic Tock model.  On Tic years the manufacturing process is updated, on Tock years the chip architecture is updated.  Every year customers get a boost in performance, and often a cut in power.  Typically this boost is in the 50% neighborhood, enough to make it worth the upgrade, and still achievable by engineering teams on a two year cycle.  Except, we are in dog years.

The Nehalem – Xeon 5500 – processor broke all prior boundaries on single generation performance gain.  Delivering two to three times the compute capacity of the Xeon 5400 (Harpertown) generation.  This is a big change, probably a once in a lifetime change – unless that quantum thing happens in my lifetime.  Roughly a 10X performance boost in less than 5 years.

During this same five years we have seen virtualization technology go from a lab project – something for test and dev – to mainstream data center process.  In 2005 it would have been heresy to suggest virtualizing the corporate ERP.  At that point virtualization overhead on the server could be as high as 25% and the entire server was needed to do “real work”.  Fast forward to today.  Virtualization technology in both the hypervisor and processor have reduced overhead to only a few percent, AND servers are 10X faster.  Not only can you virtualize the ERP, you are irresponsibly wasting resources if you do not.  Unless your ERP demands have grown 10X in 5 years, your ERP alone won’t even make a new Xeon 5500 system sweat.

If this advancement wasn’t enough, the announcements last month from Intel about the coming Xeon 7500 (4+ socket) processor were amazing.  All the benefits of the Xeon 5500, but on steroids.  The  new biggest leap ever.  With up to eight cores and four memory channels per socket, this is a monster.  Your ERP system will be barely a blip in perfmon.  It isn’t unreasonable that an entire data center for a SMB business could be virtualized onto one of these beasts.  And, how big is a Xeon 7500 server?  My guess is about the size of a breadbox