Tuesday, March 31, 2009

SiCortex Response to Intel’s Release of Nehalem Xeon EP

SiCortex President and CEO Christopher Stone says Intel’s (Nasdaq: INTC) Nehalem Xeon EP processor addresses a performance bottleneck in previous Intel chip architectures but does little to address the industry’s need for improved energy-efficiency. According to industry reports, data centers are projected to consume three percent of the United States’ electricity by 2010, doubling in less than five years. The “carbon impact”? According to a McKinsey study, emissions resulting from data centers will surpass the airline industry by 2020*. Stone asserts that this problem is just too big to ignore, and unfortunately, it appears that Intel has. The impact is significant, as the processor will be used to power computers from Apple, Cray, Dell, HP, IBM, SGI and others.

Beyond the environmental impact, many data centers are simply running out of available energy to power computing and to cool hot-running systems. In the same McKinsey study, it is estimated that “90% of organizations running large data centers need to build more power and cooling in the next 30 months.”

Under these circumstances, “The computer industry needs to make a bold commitment to reducing energy consumption at all levels — from the chip to the system architecture to the data center,” says Stone. “We at SiCortex have taken that need to heart, and have developed our computers from the silicon up to radically improve energy efficiency – creating the world’s most energy efficient systems.”

Stone is referring to results posted in the Green Computing Performance Index (GCPI), a tool SiCortex developed in cooperation with industry experts to provide objective energy-efficiency metrics at the computer system level. Based on the HPCC benchmark suite, the GCPI compares a range of established high productivity computers on a performance/watt basis, yielding information to inform purchase decisions. The HPCC benchmark suite, developed by a team led by Dr. Jack Dongarra at the University of Tennessee, is a well-respected set of benchmarks that measure the full range of computer system performance. The GCPI will include Nehalem EP-based processors as soon as performance data is posted.

Nehalem’s major improvement is in the integration of the memory controller on to the same piece of silicon as the processor, significantly improving the memory bottleneck as compared to previous Intel chips. This design is in line with what both AMD, an Intel competitor, and SiCortex have been building into their own processors. “Systems based on the new Nehalem EP processor should deliver improved performance on the desktop and for small clusters, but the new chip is unlikely to significantly impact the speed of large scale systems,” said Jud Leonard, chief architect at SiCortex. “Memory bandwidth is important, but it is only one of three key elements in system design. Unfortunately Intel has reached the practical limit of processor clock speed, and QPI, their interprocessor communications solution, does not scale. The latter is the Achilles heel for thousand-plus processor HPC systems when it comes to delivered performance. Large scale systems built on Nehalem will continue to rely on external I/O interface chips and commodity switches to communicate, impacting performance, energy consumption and cost.”

In spite of these shortcomings, will Nehalem sell? “Hardware manufacturers who have built on Intel have little choice other than to embrace the new processor,” said Stone. “The need to overcome memory bottlenecks experienced by their customers is compelling enough for vendors to bite the bullet and pay the extra expense of the new chip.” Is Nehalem the end of the line for this type of architecture? “The industry needs to pick up the pace of embracing new approaches to computation. We must address the pressing need to rein in data center energy consumption and costs,” added Stone.

About SiCortex

Headquartered near Boston, Mass., SiCortex, Inc. makes the world’s most energy-efficient high-productivity computers. Its proven architecture was designed from the silicon up to provide breakthrough delivered performance at the lowest power consumption in the industry. SiCortex computers scale from 72 to 5,832 processors running a powerful Linux operating environment. SiCortex systems are the compute-power behind some of the most important research initiatives at government agencies, national laboratories and academic institutions. For more information, visit http://www.sicortex.com/.

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