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5/27/2009
09:45 AM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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Intel Nehalem-EX Launch Raises Multicore Ante

Forget four cores -- even though it's the sweet spot of the market. I write that only half in jest, because with announcements from Intel (an 8-core Nehalem) and AMD (6-core Istanbul), the lid has been ripped off the supposed upper limit on cores and threads. Consider that a Nehalem-EX with 8 physical cores and 2 threads per core for 16 total logical threads. In a four-socket server configuration, this can deliver 64 logical cores. [Update: This number has been corrected to 64 logical cor

Forget four cores -- even though it's the sweet spot of the market. I write that only half in jest, because with announcements from Intel (an 8-core Nehalem) and AMD (6-core Istanbul), the lid has been ripped off the supposed upper limit on cores and threads. Consider that a Nehalem-EX with 8 physical cores and 2 threads per core for 16 total logical threads. In a four-socket server configuration, this can deliver 64 logical cores. [Update: This number has been corrected to 64 logical cores; when I originally posted, in my haste I calculated incorrectly.] Click on to see slides from Intel and AMD.The processor news is pretty straightforward. My point in blogging is to opine on what all this logical coring will mean, application-wise. More importantly, I'm wondering about the challenges it will present to developers.

Will they suck up all that extra computing horsepower by being even more inefficient in the way applications are threaded and server loads are balanced? Or will software strive for efficiencies commensurate with those being economically enforced on the hardware side? (That last part refers to the server consolidation trend, driven by savings in electricity and cooling costs.)

OK, so let's recap the news first. As our own Antone Gonsalves reported Tuesday, Intel said it will begin production on the Nehalem-EX (officially, the Xeon 7400 family) later this year, with systems to follow in 2010.

As for AMD, it's already sampling its 6-core Istanbul server processor, which will become the high-end offering of AMD's Opteron family. Although Istanbul has already been announced and demonstrated, we will probably hear from AMD again (perhaps later this week) with an update on shipping plans. (Probably that announcement is being done so that Intel doesn't steal all the server thunder with its Nehalem-EX press conference of Tuesday.)

I've got slides below from both AMD and Intel. For information direct from the horses' mouths, go here for Intel's press release, and here for a bunch of interesting AMD blog posts about Istanbul.

Since I can't add all that much value by regurgitating the respective specs of the two new processor lines, let me leave you with the "big thought" that was the impetus for this post in the first place.

Namely, I'm glad that we're in the midst of a frenzy toward server consolidation. That's good on several fronts. It'll improve data-center operational capabilities (more aggregate processing power, less bandwidth wasted on inter-box communications), and it'll be greener (power and cooling savings, which are the same thing, really). Plus, buying more servers is pretty much all we've got in the tech economy right now to keep the wolf from the door. OK, it makes sense as a business more, too, so that companies can position themselves for recovery from the downturn. And, hey, if flush vendors like Apple believe that investing $1-billion+ in a new data center is good business, who am I to argue?

But I still worry that, amidst all this activity, no one is standing back and saying, "Hey, wait a minute. We can't keep plowing ahead with our same old programming practices." Maybe I'm being alarmist, but I think that, when you've got dozens of threads on top of physical cores, and then you add virtualization on top of that, software architecture, design, and debugging become even more important. And I think, unfortunately, we have too much of the "slap the boxes in there and just get the crap running" mentality.

Here are those slides I promised earlier:



Intel's Nehalem-EX eight-core server processor.(Click picture to enlarge and to see three more shots.)





AMD's six-core 'Istanbul' Opteron server processor.(Click picture to enlarge and to see three more shots.)

See also:

More Than Coding Mistakes At Fault In Bad Software;

Vlog: Intel Core i7 Ushering In Era Of Ubiquitous Processing;

Intel Plant Closures Mask Grave Chip Challenges;

Nehalem Launch Emphasizes Upscale Drift Of Commodity Servers.

Follow me on Twitter: (@awolfe58)

What's your take? Let me know, by leaving a comment below or e-mailing me directly at alex@alexwolfe.net. Like this blog? Subscribe to its RSS feed: (here)

 My videos on ( YouTube)  Facebook    LinkedIn Alex Wolfe is editor-in-chief of InformationWeek.com.

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