Woodcrest: What you need to know

Canadian VARs see Intel’s launch of its latest chipset earlier this week as an opportunity for businesses to reduce their energy consumption, consolidate the number of servers in their data centres and lower their IT headcount.

On Monday, Intel began shipping the Xeon 5100 series of dual core server processors to the market, marking a revamp to the line for the first time in several years and a chance for Intel to regain some market share it lost to AMD’s Opteron chip. During that lag in Intel’s product cycle, AMD reportedly gained a 20 per cent share in the server market over Intel.

The usual suspects — HP, Dell and IBM — have already lined up to support Intel’s latest chip release, formerly known as Woodcrest. Intel is scheduled to release Merom and Conroe chips for mobile and desktop platforms later this summer.

Toronto-based OAM Computer Group, which sells tier one vendor boxes including IBM and HP, said while AMD has made some inroads, Intel is still the one to beat.

“The standard is clearly Intel out there in the server space,” said Patrick Power, president of OAM, though he admitted, “we’re seeing AMD creep into the roadmaps and the server offerings of the key players out there more than we ever have.”

The Xeon 5100 series features clock speeds of up to 3GHz with the most powerful chip consuming 85 watts of power versus others at 65 watts of power. In the third quarter, Intel plans to release a 2.33 GHz processor that will run at 40 watts of power.

Performance per watt has replaced the old speeds and feeds argument made by chip manufacturers in the past. Dual core technology means that businesses are getting twice as many servers per pair of processors, which allows them to run more servers in the same amount of space, said Joe Kollee, president of Niagara Electronics Inc. in Niagara Falls, Ont. The Xeon 5100 line uses Intel’s latest Core 2 Duo technology.

“If something uses 100 watts of power, that’s $100 per year at 24 hours running,” said Kollee. “If you can save 100 watts per server, that’s $100 a year.”

Likewise, OAM’s Power said as dual core and blade technologies come together, the potential for customers to save money on infrastructure will grow.

“Clearly there’s a massive price performance and cost savings situation with those types of processors as we move in the industry to more blade focused and centralized processing architectures,” he said.

Intel released the Bensley platform in December, which is designed for the Dempsey and Woodcrest dual core chipsets and for use in blade server products like those offered by HP and IBM.

Doug Cooper, country manager of Intel of Canada, said power consumption is becoming more and more of an issue for business. Google, for example, spends $50 million each year on its electricity needs, he said.

“As more companies are scaling out their businesses by adding more and more servers, power density is a big issue and we have a significant advantage here,” said Cooper.

Intel’s dual core chips feature virtualization technology that allows businesses to consolidate the number of servers in their data centres.

“Companies are looking at ways to reduce the number of hardware platforms that they have and consolidate around one type of platform but also merge several servers into one,” said Cooper.

The virtualization technology capability is particularly important for customers that are switching to a terminal server environment, as is the case for Andrew Watson, who heads up Voda Computer Systems Ltd. in Kamloops, B.C.

“To have a dual core processor is a lot faster,” said Watson. “If you have 20 to 30 users connected to one server, you want to have that processing power.”

Voda has customers in the health-care industry that require intense processing power for high end applications such as PACS imaging systems. Watson expects this segment of the market to be one of the first to adopt quad core computing. Intel is expected to release a quad core product, codenamed Cloverton, sometime in 2007.

If a large company like Niagara Falls Hydro, for example, were to switch to quad core computing, said Niagara Electronic’s Kollee, they could take 10 blade servers and do the same functions with 2. In large enterprises, servers are often powered by universal power supply (UPS) units, which can be costly.

“Maintenance on UPSes is a huge expense,” said Kollee. “If they can replace six old servers with one server, that’s one-quarter to one-half of hydro savings.”

When it comes down to choosing which brand of chip to go with, VARs say it depends on what application you’re using it for.

“There are still particular types of applications that benefit from an AMD architecture and some that benefit from an Intel architecture,” said Power. “As we get to dual core offerings, we start to see that increase potentially in certain circumstances.”

More specifically, Voda’s Watson said, “Opteron might win out in custom application development or graphic development whereas if it’s more database intensive Intel would probably win out.”

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