Intel Expands Its Xeon E7 and Server Rack Architecture

by Sean Michael Kerner

Rack-scale architecture announced at the same time Intel's Xeon memory capacity is boosted by 4x.

Intel is accelerating its vision and its technologies for the emerging Big Data era.

As part of the acceleration, Intel is expanding its low-power Atom processors as well as its flagship Xeon processors with new performance and scalability features. Going a step further, Intel is now also discussing its vision for a new server rack architecture that will increase component utilization.

"Big Data is a big opportunity for Intel," Lisa Graff, Intel Vice President and General Manager of Intel's Enterprise Segment Group, said in a media briefing.

Intel is aiming to capitalize on the Big Data opportunity with both its Atom and Xeon processor families, and Graff noted that in 2013 Intel is refreshing both processor lineups with new chips.


Intel's Atom low-power processor chip is getting a refresh with its 1200 series. One of the new chips is codenamed Briarwood and is intended specifically for storage server requirements.

"So instead of doing RAID in software we actually build it into the hardware," Graff said.

The other two Atom chips coming in 2013 are codenamed Avoton and Rangeley. Avoton is Intel's second generation System on a Chip (SoC) architecture for 64-bit microservers. The Rangeley chip is being built specifically for networking.


Intel's flagship Xeon server processor is also getting a complete refresh. At the entry level, Intel is debuting a Xeon E3 processor codenamed Haswell that is set to be released in the middle of the year. Haswell will debut with a power envelope as low as 13 watts and will include integrated graphics capabilities.

"8 years ago, Xeon was one product with one core and we would change the frequencies," Graff said. "Now we have all these other nobs and dials that we turn."

Xeon E7

At the top end of the Intel Xeon portfolio is the Xeon E7 family, codenamed Ivy Bridge-EX, which will hit the market in the fourth quarter of this year.

"You used to need a mini-computer to be able to put 12 Terabytes of memory into a system and now we can do it with a single 8 socket server," Graff said.

The Xeon E7 has triple the memory capacity of its predecessor and will benefit from new reliability features that Intel is branding as "Run Sure" technology.

"This will be a big jump over our currently shipping products," Graff said.

Rack-Scale Architecture

Looking beyond just the silicon that it provides with Atom and Xeon chips, Intel also wants to re-invent server racks. Intel is proposing a new Intel Rack scaleapproach that aggregates compute, memory and storage capabilities in a new rack-scale architecture.

"We're putting together all elements of the rack in a reference architecture -- be that the compute node, the photonics piece with the fabric, storage including SSDs, and switches," Graff said.

"It's a whole kit of building blocks to be able to achieve this vision of maximizing the flexibility, efficiency and cost effectiveness in the rack," Graff continued.

The photonics piece could potentially enable a rack fabric with 100 Gbps of transport. Graff also mentioned Intel is now working on a reference architecture that is expected to be published in 2014.

The idea of creating a new aggregated rack architecture is not a new one. A year ago the Facebook-led OpenCompute Project announced its Open Rack architecture.

"Companies are doing rack-scale architectures today; Facebook is doing it and that architecture works great for them," Graff said. "Our reference architecture is just a recipe so that a much broader set of customers can have a recipe book for how to do these kinds of things."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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This article was originally published on Wednesday Apr 10th 2013
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