Intel’s Xeon E7 v2: Is this the End of “Good Enough” Computing?

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  February 19, 2014

Intel introduced the new Xeon E7 v2, a family of processors the company said is designed to help companies turn data into actionable insights via advanced analytics and support for mission critical applications. According to Intel, the Xeon processor E7 v2 family delivers new capabilities to effectively process and analyze large, diverse amounts of data to unlock information that was previously inaccessible. These include:

  • Triple the memory capacity of the previous generation Xeon family (up to 1.5 terabytes (TB) of memory per socket), supporting much faster and thorough data analysis, including in-memory analytics solutions such as SAP’s HANA and IBM’s BLU Acceleration.
  • Twice the average performance of the previous generation Xeon solutions, helping businesses run mission critical applications including business support systems (BSS), customer relationship management (CRM), and enterprise resource planning (ERP) more efficiently, at lower cost and with faster response times.
  • Up to four times the I/O bandwidth over the previous generation solutions. Along with providing extra capacity for storage and networking connections, the Intel Xeon Processor E7 v2 family features Intel Integrated I/O, Intel Data Direct I/O and support for PCIe 3.0to reduce data bottlenecks. .

The Xeon Processor E7 v2 family also continues Intel’s tradition of delivering world-class reliability, availability and serviceability (RAS). Intel Run Sure Technology is designed for “five nines” solutions essential for business-critical data by reducing the frequency and cost of planned and unplanned downtime.

Beginning immediately, 21 system manufacturers from around the world will announce more than 40 platforms leveraging Intel Xeon processor E7 v2. These include Asus, Bull, Cisco, Dell, EMC, Fujitsu, Hitachi, HP, Huawei, IBM, Inspur, Lenovo, NEC, Oracle, PowerLeader, Quanta, SGI, Sugon, Supermicro, Unisys and ZTE. Numerous software and analytics vendors also support Xeon processor E7 v2 family-based platforms, including Altibase, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, Pivotal, QlikView, Red Hat, SAP, SAS, Software AG, Splunk, Sungard, Teradata, TongTech, Vertica and YonYou.

The Pitch

Intel’s new Xeon E7 v2 family is a game-changing technology that solidifies the company’s position in advanced analytics and mission critical computing.

Final Analysis

During the boom, then-HP CEO Carly Fiorina espoused a notion that she called “good enough” computing. In short, Fiorina argued that despite significant differences in performance between existing x86 servers and Unix and other enterprise class systems, the dramatically lower cost of x86-based products would inspire organizations to rethink their computing priorities and adopt, buy and deploy x86 whenever and wherever possible.

Whether you love or hate the concept, “good enough” computing has been a constant theme in data center strategizing and purchasing ever since then. Detractors of x86 servers actively used the term as a pejorative. Yet quarter over quarter, year over year the numbers of systems based on Intel Xeon and AMD Opteron microprocessors sold have exceeded traditional enterprise class systems by far. Today, x86 dominates data center markets and applications, including general purpose computing, high performance and supercomputing, cloud computing, big data analytics and in-memory applications.

More importantly, x86-based solutions are largely priced far less than alternative system solutions. At the Xeon E7 v2 launch event in San Francisco, Diane Bryant, Intel’s SVP and GM of Intel’s Data Center Group said that while RISC-based servers (IBM’s Power Systems and Oracle’s SPARC solutions) constitute just 6% of the total number of 4-way and above systems sold last year, those sales accounted for some 52% of the total revenues spent.

In other words, as they have long done, x86 solutions based on Intel Xeon deliver far more bang for the bucks business computing customers spend. But most important of all, even as x86-based systems continue to deliver terrific value, they have moved further and further up the mission-critical IT stack, steadily displacing traditional Unix and other enterprise solutions and placing their vendors under increasing pressure.

This last point exposes a significant flaw in Fiorina’s “good enough” concept: While the common triumph of low price/commodity products over high price/proprietary goods is a concept straight out of Business School 101, it fails to take into account what happens when “good enough” technologies evolve to a point of matching or even surpassing the quality and performance of higher cost products. Such an event would be revolutionary in the extreme, and we would argue that it has actually occurred with the arrival of Intel’s Xeon Processor E7 v2 family.

As a result, systems based on the new processors will deliver excellent or exceptional performance across a wide range of enterprise applications, from data-intensive, in-memory analytics to the most critical of mission-critical workloads. Those are certainly the advanced markets Intel and its system manufacturing and software partners are initially targeting.

But we believe it is important to note that the benefits offered by Intel’s new Xeon E7 v2 also extend backwards to encompass use cases where Xeon is already deeply-entrenched. Those areas, particularly cloud computing and other heavily virtualized infrastructures, along with high performance and supercomputing, should also see significant improvements in both overall performance and total cost of ownership (TCO).

That point—the steady rise in quality that impacts virtually every sort of x86-based application and customer—fleshes out the final dimension of Carly Fiorina’s “good enough” sobriquet. The fact is that the IT industry has long encouraged a sort of stratification that targets highly innovative solutions for the customers who have the need and means to pay for them. This only makes sense, and vendors have long profited from that market dynamic.

But at the same time, Intel’s efforts around Xeon and its other x86 technologies have raised the general quality of computing as a whole to the point that customers have access to affordable technologies today that would have been beyond their reach or requirements a half decade or so ago. That is the truly revolutionary issue Fiorina only hinted at but that Intel has worked steadily to make real.

This does not mean that sales of traditional enterprise systems will crater or halt anytime soon. But we believe that it will become increasingly difficult for vendors to charge a premium for business critical computing and analytics attributes which are becoming increasingly commonplace.

That the new Xeon E7 v2 family is just the latest iteration of this process, with additional innovations expected in future generations of Intel products, means that the “good enough” revolution may finally be over. However, we also expect the ongoing evolution of x86 technologies will continue to change the face, functions and fate of business computing for years to come.

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