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Issue of August 2006 

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Server Update 2006

News from x86 land

x86-powered servers (EM64T and AMD64 based) are leading the server race in terms of sheer numbers. Anil Patrick R takes a look at what is happening on this front

If Network Magazine’s Server Update 2005 started with RISC servers, 2006 seems to be the year of settling scores. This year’s server watch-out will have to start with news of the x86 and x86-64 side of serverdom.

On a rampage

x86 and x86-64 servers have gained substantial market share in India since last year. Proof of this comes from Network Magazine’s Infrastructure Strategies 2006 (IS 2006) survey results, which clearly show that out of 304 respondents, 68 percent already have investments in x86 servers (both x86 and x86-64); out of these 304 CIOs, 21 percent plan to invest in x86 servers during 2006-2007. This trend has been the result of a steady growth over 2005-06.

This feeling is echoed by Gartner’s India Server Revenue survey for the third quarter of 2005, which showed a growth of 37.4 percent over the third quarter of 2004. According to the survey, while there is a flat revenue growth for the 1-way x86 servers in the APAC region, the 2-way and 4-way server categories reported over 30 percent and 50 percent unit growth respectively over same period last year. For more recent trend figures on server adoption from Gartner India’s Naveen Mishra, take a look at the box, Gartner India’s take on x86 for 2006.

IDC’s Asia / Pacific Quarterly Enterprise Server Tracker, Q4 2005, Feb 2006 release, also substantiates this trend. According to the tracker, x86 server shipments grew by 42.2 percent during 2005. The table India server market by chip type has more details from the tracker.

India server market by chip type
Annual growth (%)
Factory revenues
(US$ million)
Factory revenues
Total servers
Courtesy: IDC India

Chipping away

Given the performance benefits that can be achieved on the x86 platform, organisations are evaluating it seriously.
While the number of servers used might be higher when compared to RISC, services can be offered for a lower cost

This year will see greater adoption on the x86 front due to the value propositions that the platforms (32- and 64-bit) offer. Advances like dual-core and virtualisation-supported CPUs will also be key drivers for the increased adoption.

Cost-per-user still remains the biggest advantage for x86. “Given the performance benefits that can be achieved on the x86 platform, organisations now consider it as a serious option. While the number of servers used might become higher when compared to RISC, service still becomes cheaper for the organisation,” says Mukund Ramaratnam, Director, Marketing & Business Development, AMD India. One of the best examples of such utilisation is the ring-back tone service that is offered by many telcos. This service has become almost free today.

Route 64

On the value proposition side, the biggest driver in 2006 is likely to be x86-64, namely, AMD’s AMD64 and Intel’s EM64T-based CPUs. These processors do away with the 32-bit CPU bottlenecks such as the maximum 4 GB memory limitations.

At present 64-bit processors have been adopted by many organisations, but the typical applications run remain 32-bit. The lack of porting is one of the reasons why many organisations are still wary of shifting from RISC to x86. However, this scenario is bound to change as soon as organisations port more applications on to x86 platforms.

Today’s 64-bit processors are also less power-hungry than their predecessors. Considering the fact that it is the processor which usually takes 60 percent or more of the server’s power consumption, this is indeed a welcome development. AMD was leading on this front, but the race is heating up (or should it be cooling down?) on this front with Intel offering their Xeon 5100 (Woodcrest) processor series.

“As a strategy we are processor agnostic. Where we see the battle happening is on the performance per watt front, and there is much R&D happening on it,” says Rajesh Dhar, Country Manager, ISS, HP India Sales.

“When it comes to optimised servers for the data centre, performance along with factors such as power and cooling are most important. We are addressing this with our new 65 nm-based Intel Xeon 5100 series (Woodcrest). For example, we are leading over AMD Opteron by 80-85 percent across various applications on five benchmarks. These figures are for the 2-way 5100 series servers,” says Narendra Bhandari, Regional Manager, APAC, Strategic Relations and Internet Solutions Group, Intel Asia Electronics.

Two is better

The trick when using multiple cores is to reduce clock speeds and increase thread execution efficiency. This means that overall processing performance and application stability increase when compared to a single core CPU

There’s a range of dual core 64-bit CPU options from AMD and Intel. With two cores per die, these processors offer performance and efficiency levels significantly higher than their single core peers.

The basic feature of dual core CPUs is a dedicated execution core each to simultaneously process two threads of a multi-threaded application. This is the result of diminishing returns from increasing clock speeds. With the use of two cores it is possible to avoid the clock speed race and bring in better efficiency levels with greater stability.

The trick when using multiple cores is to reduce clock speeds and increase thread execution efficiency. This means that overall processing performance and application stability increase when compared to a single core CPU. “Depending on the application used, a dual core processor can provide as much as 40 percent of a performance boost when compared to a single core CPU,” informs Ramaratnam.

This is why we recommend that you go in for a dual core option for fresh investments although single core options are still available.

Gartner India's take on x86 for 2006

Naveen Mishra, Senior Analyst, Server Markets, Gartner India, gives his take on what to expect in India on the x86 and x86-64 server front during 2006.

When it comes to the x86 and x86-64 server scenario, we have observed that numbers were in excess of $270 million during 2005 for India. This is quite a significant number, and amounts to almost 60 percent of the overall Indian server market.

In terms of the shift from 32-bit to 64-bit on the x86 front, we observed a rough ratio of around 55 percent (32-bit) and 45 percent (64-bit). It is an almost neck-to-neck competition as is clearly visible. This is a very significant trend which we see continuing during 2006 as well.

There will be much progression from 32- to 64-bit processing during 2006 across verticals and usage. The shift to 64-bit computing is driven by x86-64's inherent value propositions. Advantages such as more users per server provide a strong value proposition to organisations going in for x86-64 adoption.

Today it can be clearly observed that many organisations are going in for 64-bit computing, but still run 32-bit applications on the new platform. This is bound to change soon. While 32-bit applications run on the 64-bit CPU as of now, further adoption of 64-bit operating systems and applications will take place during 2006.

Such transitions are not necessarily costly. In most cases, all that needs to be done is to change the legacy environment to a 64-bit environment. Going 64-bit eliminates problems such as memory limitations which are common with 32-bit environments.

Not necessarily equal

Both AMD and Intel have dual core architectures. While the new range of Intel Xeon 5100s are 65 nm technology-based, the AMD Opterons are 90 nm technology-based. The older Xeon 7000 series is still 90 nm-based.

A major difference (apart from fabrication) between the two CPU vendors is in the use of memory controllers on the CPU. While the Opterons use memory controllers built on the CPU itself, all the Xeons use memory controllers on the North Bridge (outside the CPU).

Next comes the performance per watt debate and thermal envelope claims. While AMD argues that maximum power values are seldom reached while running normal workloads. Intel is emphasising the Thermal Design Point (TDP). Going by this rating, the Xeon 5100s have a much lower TDP rating of 65 watts (except for the 3 GHz version with a TDP of 80 watts) when compared to the Opterons.

The Fast Track 64-bit x86 CPUS
Vendor & Processor type
Model numbers
Clock speed range
AMD (90 nm, Opteron dual-core, 1-way) 165, 170, 175, 180 and 185 1.8 GHz to 2.6 GHz
AMD (90 nm, Opteron dual-core, up to 2-way) 265, 270, 275, 280 and 285 1.8 GHz to 2.6 GHz
AMD (90 nm, Opteron dual-core, up to 8-way) 865, 870, 875, 880 and 885 1.8 GHz to 2.6 GHz
AMD low-power (90 nm, Opteron dual-core, 1-way, up to 2-way, up to 8-way) Same as above, but with the HE suffix 1.8 GHz to 2.6 GHz
Intel (90 nm, Xeon 7000 MP series) 7020 MP, 7030 MP, 7040 MP and 7041 MP 2.66 GHz to 3 GHz.
Intel (65 nm, Xeon 5000 DP series) 5030 DP, 5050 DP, 5060 DP, 5063 DP, and 5080 DP 2.67 GHz to 3.73 GHz
Intel (65 nm, Xeon 5100 DP series) 5110 DP, 5120 DP, 5130 DP, 5140 DP, 5150 DP and 5160 DP 1.6 GHz to 3 GHz

Beyond vendor benchmarks

This is why there is tremendous debate going on about the merits and demerits of each processor, with benchmarks flying back and forth. With each party claiming units different from the other, the scene is just absolute chaos. Besides, it is still too early at this point to predict how the new Xeon 5100s will fare.

For this reason we would advise you to perform evaluations based on your organisation’s application-specific needs rather than just going by benchmarks which have very little in common.

This year

This year will see tremendous competition on the x86 front. With both AMD and Intel planning more product launches during the year, it promises to be an exciting year for the server buyer.

To start with, AMD is expected to launch a 65 nm Opteron later this year. With competition from Intel Xeon 5100s, AMD is not going to be watching from the sidelines. Intel is also not planning to just bank on just the present launches. It has big plans for the dual-core platform. “By the end of 2006, over 70 percent of our volumes across processor verticals will be from the dual core platform. On the server side it will be much higher,” predicts Bhandari.

It’s clear from all this that dual core server platforms are the bare minimum now.

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