Intel: New Xeon Silicon, SSDs and Cloud for All

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  April 6, 2016

For years, Intel’s new product introductions occurred with steady reliability, an issue emphasized by its well-known “Tick Tock” processor release cycles. The company apparently (according to a close reading of an Intel 10K report) ended that strategy in late March, replacing it with a new cycle known as ‘Process-Architecture-Optimization.’ So if you expected last week’s launch of the latest generation Intel Xeon microprocessor and new data center-ready SSDs to highlight this new direction, you wouldn’t have been disappointed.

Why so? Because while Intel certainly highlighted its new server silicon and solid state storage technologies at the San Francisco launch event, the lion’s share of attention was on new software-defined infrastructure (SDI) initiatives, strategies and partners that promise to bring Cloud for All to Intel customers and the greater business computing market. Let’s take a closer look at Intel’s new offerings and how the company intends to achieve its Cloud for All goals.

Inside Intel’s new Xeon and SSD solutions

To begin, here’s a look under the hood of the new Intel Xeon microprocessors and SSD Series introduced in San Francisco.

  • Built on Intel’s 14nm process technology, the Intel Xeon processor E5-2600 v4 product family delivers improved performance of 20%+ more cores and cache than the prior generation Xeon solutions, faster memory and other integrated technologies that can accelerate a wide range of server, network and storage workloads. The new chips also offer security enhancements, including workload isolation, policy enforcement and faster cryptography. Xeon E5-2600 v4 products also support Intel’s Resource Director Technology, which controls shared resources like processor caches and main memory. Systems based on the new chips can support intelligent orchestration, along with improved system utilization and service levels.
  • Intel launched two new SSD variants. The first include the company’s SSD DC P3320 and P3520 Series, the first Intel SSDs to use the company’s high density 3D NAND technology to support highly efficient and dense storage solution. According to the company, the DC P3320 offers up to a 5X better performance SATA-based SSDs. The new SSD DC D3700 and D3600 Series are Intel’s first dual-port PCI Express SSDs using the Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe) protocol. The dual-port design provides critical redundancy and failover important in mission-critical workloads, as well as a significant performance boost. Intel noted that systems using the D3700 can see up to 6X better performance than dual-port SAS solutions.

One vendor’s results – Lenovo

What does this mean in practical, go-to-market terms? Let’s look at what one vendor – Lenovo – has accomplished with Intel’s offerings. The company refreshed its 2U offerings with Xeon E5-2600 v4 silicon, including System x, ThinkServer, Flex and NeXtScale solutions. As a result of this effort, Lenovo achieved six performance world records across database, high performance computing, high frequency trading and virtualization workloads.

That’s hardly a surprise given that the new systems offering up to 44% greater CPU performance, 22% more cores and 12% faster memory than past generation solutions. Practically speaking, by delivering up to 23% faster Hadoop performance and up to 30% faster data encryption, Lenovo’s new solutions are optimal choices for supporting a wide range of business processes and applications, and mission critical workloads.

Cloud for All

What about Intel’s focus on SDI and its visionary Cloud for All strategy? That part of the launch requires some context. Not too surprisingly, Intel tends to take a far broader view of target markets than its server OEM customers. Cloud represents a small portion of some of those companies’ current business but one that has the potential to grow larger and more lucrative over time.

In contrast, Intel Xeon is the processor of choice for the vast majority of cloud-based systems, including those purchased, built or designed by cloud leaders, like Amazon, Google and Microsoft. With that in mind, it’s possible to look at last week’s launch event as a balancing act of sorts. At the same time Intel was offering Xeon and SSD solutions that provide immediate benefits for its server OEM and ODM customers, the company’s Cloud for All initiatives take a longer view of Intel’s role in and influence on cloud computing.

Those initiatives took two essential forms. First, Intel announced strategic partnerships; 1) with CoreOS and Mirantis to integrate open source management for containers and virtual machines, and 2) with VMware to establish a network of Centers of Excellence to accelerate cloud deployments by driving custom optimizations, PoC testing, cybersecurity and best practices.

Second, Intel announced significant expansions of its work with developers and developer communities. Those included an effort with the Cloud Native Computing Foundation that will result in what Intel called the world’s largest cluster (with 1,000+ Xeon-based nodes) for testing “born in the cloud” applications. The company also announced significant expansions to is “builders” programs to accelerate the development of SDI use cases and next generation cloud-ready solutions.

Final analysis

What are we to make of all this? A couple of points came clear at Intel’s Xeon launch event. First, though Intel may be shifting away from its long-held “Tick Tock” product release cycle, it isn’t letting up on developing/delivering next generation silicon technologies that provide considerable benefits to server vendors and their customers. The measurable improvements that these latest Xeon and SSD offerings support are certainly clear in Lenovo’s refreshed systems, as well as in solutions by other Xeon-based server vendors.

But the Cloud for All collaborations and developer-specific initiatives launched in conjunction with Intel’s new processors and SSDs find the company taking a larger and longer view of its efforts around SDI and cloud computing. These moves should result in strategic benefits of obvious interest to Intel. Despite the company’s clear leadership in cloud, one doesn’t maintain such a position by slacking off. Plus, the announcements demonstrate Intel’s recognition of and willingness to enhance the important roles developers play in cloud and SDI.

In essence, Intel’s newest Xeon and SSD products will find happy homes in tens of thousands of existing businesses and data centers. But the company’s Cloud for All initiatives intend to be even further-reaching in terms of strategic vision and practical application. If successful, these efforts could strengthen Intel’s position as a key influencer in cloud and SDI for years to come.

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