Intel is a giant in the in the server chip space commanding 99% market share, and in compute for the data plane of datacenter storage and networking, 50 to 75% share. This may lead some to believe the company’s datacenter growth prospects are dim. Not so fast. First off, cloud, HPC and AI are growing markets, while enterprise is flat to declining. Intel has already geared up to increase the datacenter market basket size with SSD storage, network and AI accelerators, and software stacks. Consider Intel has a very low share of the networking and storage control plane, platforms like base stations, SSD, and newer, specialized compute needs. To put a number on it, Intel estimates it only has 36% share of a $45B growing to $65B TAM. Of course, these growth opportunities need to be measured against new competitive threats in the general-purpose compute space from Advanced Micro Devices and specialized AI accelerators from NVIDIA. Intel has announced some of these new growth products and initiatives, but not everything and all came together today with the launch event I attended in Brooklyn of their new datacenter Xeon Scalable processors, code-named “Purley”.
Xeon goes broader but simultaneously gets more workload-targeted
First and foremost, Intel’s launch today signified an expansion and broadening of Intel’s datacenter efforts and puts an exclamation point on how it’s targeting workloads for enterprises, carriers, HPC, cloud and AI workloads. The industry has been using the term “workload-based computing” for 25 years, but the big difference here is that this isn’t just talk, it’s reality, and it’s happening at the silicon level into a comprehensive platform. Intel isn’t just throwing a CPU at it and calling it a day- they are, by targeted workload, choosing the right general-purpose CPU, chipset, accelerators, SSD storage and specialty software stacks to attack the problem. These targeted workloads include many of the markets where Intel can still find growth and not compete with themselves, while defending their turf.
One good example is in networking where by using Xeon, a chipset (PCH) with QuickAssist, and also the DPDK software stack, Intel says they can deliver up to 2.5X better performance than the prior generation. HPC is another one where, with Xeon AVX-512 as well as integrated Intel Omni-Path Architecture, Intel says they can provide up to a 2X FLOPs/clock improvement. Storage is another example where with Xeons with its Optane SSDs and Storage Performance Development Kit (SPDK), Intel says they can achieve up to 5X more IOPS and reduce latency by up to 70 percent compared to out-of-the-box NVMe SSDs. Intel isn’t confused on AI either and I believe they know where the heat is going to be, what they have to do to capitalize, and now it’s up to them to execute, particularly in training. Intel made a compelling case today with their new Xeons in heterogeneous machine learning inference workloads, but I need to investigate this further.
When it comes to improving overall performance, Intel is bringing AVX-512 as well as a new Intel Mesh Architecture for reduced system latency and flexibility. I was expecting AVX-512, but I wasn’t expecting the new mesh architecture, a feature that is more about scalability and future-proofing than anything else. The company is also utilizing Intel QuickAssist Technology (QAT) interestingly enough in the chipset to accelerate hardware cryptography as well as data compression. Intel is also integrating their high-speed OmniPath Architecture fabric into the processor designed to improve the cost of deploying HPC clusters and improving density.
Intel is also introducing a new Ultra Path Interconnect (UPI) that replaces QPI (QuickPath Interconnect) which increases the data rate from 9.6 GT/s (Gigatransfers per second) to 10.4 GT/s or about 10% and allows for up to 3 UPI in a 2 socket configuration. QPI and UPI are primarily used for inter-socket data transfers in multi-socketed systems, which is important when you look at how many multi-socketed systems are out there. Intel claims a data efficiency increase of 4% to 21% going from QPI to UPI and a reduction of idle power of up to 50%. This technology also enables a new level of scalability with support for up to 6 terabytes of memory in a 4-socket system and scale to support 2-socket through 8-socket systems and beyond. This is some serious scalability.
When it comes to storage, Intel is introducing an integrated VMD (Volume Management Device) and VROC (Virtual RAID on CPU) inside of some of their Purley processors. This helps to accelerate the performance of RAID arrays using NVMe SSDs and to also reduce the complexity of the build out which includes reducing the amount of overall power consumption and the need for backup batteries. Intel claims an improvement of up to 15W per RAID volume with this new VMD and VROC storage solution built into their Purley processors. This allows Intel to build a 1 Petabyte storage system in a single 1U rack, which is far denser than what it used to take only a few years ago.
I’m looking for independent, third party benchmarks and workload comparisons on Advanced Micro Devices EPYC, particularly single socket configurations.
While I’m not a huge fan of the “metals” analogy and prefer numerical families, out of the other side of my mouth, I do like the segmentation as it delineates between different levels of different kinds of performance characteristics. Metals will enable timeless introductions for years to come and by using metals, no one will be confused that this is a small launch. It’s a biggie.
With Intel Select Solutions, the company is even building “near”-engineered solutions to the table with Select Solutions, an indication that it is moving up the food chain and enabling a much larger market-basket. I’m not surprised by this move as Intel has historically moved into the OEM and ODM territory when it made sense for them. Intel has historically done solutions testing and optimizations, and now with the work and bigger market basket opportunity for targeted workloads, why not package it all up and put huge marketing dollars behind it?
Select Solutions is a solutions brand that is based on Intel’s Builders ecosystem collaborations designed to simplify and speed up the choice and deployment of datacenter and network infrastructure. I like to think of Select Solutions as the “Centrino” for the datacenter. Select Solutions is starting with solutions delivered on Canonical Ubuntu, Microsoft SQL 16 and VMWare vSAN 6.6. I am expecting many, many more. Companies like Ericsson, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Huawei, Quanta, Lenovo, Sugon and Supermicro are already onboard to deliver these infrastructure Select Solutions starting today to drive enterprise refresh.
There is a lot to absorb with Intel’s new Xeon Scalable Processors- in fact we’re only scratching the surface with all the improvements that Intel has made, particularly the many more workload specific improvements. The new Xeons represent growth and opportunity for Intel, and the company is doing it doing it by more finely targeting workloads and addressing it by offering a full platform of CPUs, chipsets, SSD storage, accelerators and software stacks, then tying a ribbon around it with the new Select Solutions. I see growth potential in spaces it hasn’t historically achieved high degrees of market share while defending their CPU turf at the same time. All in all, a very solid launch.