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2/20/2014
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Intel's Big Data Play: 5 Facts

Intel ruled the PC era. Can it do the same in the age of big data and the Internet of Things?

Last month at CES, Intel demoed tiny, low-power chips to power the coming wave of wearable tech and other smart objects in the Internet of Things (IoT). This week, the chipmaker introduced Xeon processors aimed at the other end of the spectrum -- high-end datacenters, where IoT and other analytics-intensive trends have increased demand for a new breed of hardware optimized for big-data applications.

Intel claims its new Xeon E7 v2 family boasts plenty of muscle to chew through numbers, with twice the average performance and four times the I/O bandwidth of previous generations. But is the chipmaker prepared to rule the top-of-the-line datacenters of the future? Here are five things to consider.

1. The new Xeons shine a spotlight on in-memory analytics.
"I don't know if this product line will be the tipping point for in-memory database adoption... but if it's not, then the tipping point is very near," IDC analyst Kuba Stolarski told us in an email.

[Has Windows 8.1 won over Windows 8 critics? Read Microsoft Sells 200M Win 8 Licenses: Yawn.]

Indeed, research firm Gartner projected last year that by 2015, 35% of midsized-to-large enterprises will adopt in-memory analytics, which speeds up analysis by placing a dataset in the system memory rather than in traditional disks. Intel claims the E7 v2 family boasts triple the memory capacity of previous generations. The chip giant this week touted that eBay achieved roughly twice the performance of current baselines during a recent trial with E7 v2 chips and SAP's Hana in-memory analytics software.

2. Intel's chips could take share from RISC systems.
Though Intel's x86 chips dominate the PC and server markets, many legacy mission-critical systems rely on RISC (reduced instruction set computing) architectures, which are engineered to provide improved performance by sacrificing instruction complexity for a much faster execution rate. Chips from companies such as IBM and Oracle usually power such systems, but if Intel's E7 chips can displace RISC in the next generation of high-end hardware, the company could command elite status in a world of increasingly data-driven, intelligence-hungry datacenters.

Xeon Processor E7 v2 product die (Source: Intel)
Xeon Processor E7 v2 product die
(Source: Intel)

Intel claims E7 v2 can deliver up to 80% better performance and up to 80% lower total cost of ownership compared to an alternative RISC architecture based around IBM's Power 7+. The new silicon also boasts RAS (reliability, availability, and serviceability) features that originally appeared in its Itanium products -- the Linux-oriented family of mission-critical processors, mainly used by HP, on whose space the Xeons are now encroaching. The company also possesses peerless manufacturing resources, which should help it to produce new chips at yields and margins few competitors can match.

"Intel is upping its game," Gartner research director Sergis Mushell said in a phone interview. "They make larger chips that no one else can make."

3. E7 v2 could give Intel a needed win in a lucrative enterprise market.
In January, Intel reported strong demand for chips to power cloud servers, but sales for other datacenter products missed analyst expectations. The new E7 v2 chips could change that. They're very expensive (the top-end version is almost $7,000), but they're also aimed at customers who don't cut corners.

"Pricing of chips in the consumer market is going down, but as you look at the high-performance market, companies pay for the highest quality products at the highest speeds," Mushell said.

"The top-tier service providers have traditionally gone for top-bin parts," Stolarski said. He said businesses might not go for Intel's high-end

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Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio

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