IBM, HP quibble over Xeon MPs in midrange servers

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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

IBM Corp yesterday announced benchmarks for its eight-way xSeries 440 "Vigil" server. The results, it said, demonstrate to naysayers that servers based on the "Foster" Xeon MP processors from Intel Corp can, with the right chipsets, show good scalability on commercial processing workloads,

Timothy Prickett Morgan writes


IBM sources say that its competitors, particularly Hewlett Packard Co, are essentially saying that Foster servers do not fit into the market, and indeed HP has quietly killed off the so-called "F8" chipset, a kicker to Intel's "Profusion" chipset for Pentium III Xeon servers.

HP has not fielded a big Wintel or Lintel box running the Foster processors and seems content on focusing on eight-way 32-bit Pentium III Xeon and four-way 64-bit Itanium servers at the moment as it awaits the delivery of its eight-way to 64-way "Pinnacles" chipset sometime next year, which will support the Itanium and PA-RISC processors (both 64-bit chips) but, alas, not the 32-bit Fosters.

While HP has not come right out and said this, it seems that the company is intent on shipping 32-bit processors in four-way and smaller machines for some time, and 64-bit processors in eight-way and larger machines, with the exception of eight-way Profusion servers for customers who, for whatever reason, want legacy support for the Pentium III Xeon processors running at 700MHz or 900MHz. HP's plans for supporting the E8870/E9870 chipset and scalability port, which offers 4, 8, 12, and 16 processor configurations, is unclear.

This Intel chipset, formerly known as the i870, is known to support the "McKinley" Itanium 2 and a year and a half ago was expected to support the kicker to the Fosters, the "Gallatin" Xeon MPs, and depending on who you asked, the Fosters themselves. But Intel's specs for the E8870 say that it is an Itanium 2 chipset at the moment, and do not say anything at all about any Xeon MP chips, current or future.

With HP having killed off the F8 chipset and Intel's position unclear about the E8870, which starts shipping in volume in September, you would expect HP to have little good to say about Foster in the eight-way server space.

IBM, because it does not yet have Itanium 2 support ready for its "Summit" EXA chipset, which supports 32-bit Xeon MP and 64-bit Itanium processors from Intel, is of course thrilled to have Foster chips running in eight-way servers, and has just got out TPC-C online transaction processing benchmark test results to prove that these machines can be a great upgrade for customers who have run out of gas on those old Pentium III Xeon servers using the Profusion chipset.

IBM tested its eight-way xSeries 440 server using the 1.6GHz Xeon MP processors (each with 1MB of on-chip L3 cache), 64GB of main memory, and 4.7TB of disk capacity. The server running the TPC-C test ran an early release of Microsoft Corp's Windows .NET Datacenter Server (which this test result says will be available on January 21, 2003) and SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition.

The xSeries 440 was able to handle 92,398 transactions per minute at a cost of $7.70 per TPM. Dell Computer Corp tested an eight-way Profusion server, a PowerEdge 8450 to be specific, using the 900MHz Pentium III Xeons, and was able to crank through 69,902 TPM on the TPC-C test at a cost of $8.46 per TPM. The Summit machine, albeit with software that won't be available for six months, offered 32% more performance and 9% better bang for the buck compared to that Dell Profusion server. And the Summit machine using 1.6GHz Xeon MPs offered 38% more performance than a PowerEdge 8450 using the slower 700MHz Pentium III Xeon processors and 11% better bang for the buck.

It's hard to say whether or not the Windows .NET Datacenter Server release of Microsoft's operating system helped or hurt the IBM xSeries 440 benchmark results, but it seems likely that the future operating system does a better job handling large chunks of main memory and SMP support beyond four-way clustering, and hence that is why IBM chose it.

If this is the case, a Summit machine running Windows 2000 Datacenter Server would do worse on this same benchmark. Why else would IBM use future software if it didn't help? IBM tested a four-way xSeries 440 using Windows 2000 Datacenter Server (which seems weird, too, if you think about it, since Datacenter Server is aimed at eight-ways and larger) and 16GB of main memory and was able to process 55,139 TPM at a cost of $6.98 per TPM. A four-way Summit machine has about the same oomph as an eight-way Profusion machine using the older 700MHz Pentium III Xeons, which is the vast majority of the installed base these days. This is plenty of headroom, even if it is not nearly as much performance as customers will be able to get by jumping to Itanium processors in future.

Still, those Itanium servers loom pretty large, especially for operating systems, middleware, and applications that are priced based on the number of processors in the box. As part of the McKinley rollout last month, HP put out TPC-C benchmarks for servers using its "Pluto" zx1 chipset in two-way and four-way configurations using the 64-bit versions of Microsoft's Windows 2000 Advanced Server and SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition. HP's rx2600 server, equipped with two 1GHz McKinleys, 12GB of main memory, and 3TB of disk capacity was able to handle 40,612 TPM at a cost of $5.72 per TPM. (This price includes an unspecified "large cash discount" available through HP Direct, so don't trust that pricing too far.) The four-way rx5670 McKinley server from HP offered nearly twice the performance as the rx2600, with a posting of 78,455 TPM at a cost of $5.12 per TPM (this price again includes that mysterious and undocumented HP Direct discount).

Chip for chip, the Itanium 2 will give the best performance among servers in the Pentium III Xeon, Xeon MP, and Itanium generations. An eight-way Pentium III Xeon using 900MHz processors will hit around 70,000 TPM, an eight-way using Foster MPs will hit around 90,000 TPM, but an eight-way using 1GHz Itanium 2 processors should hit around 125,000 to 150,000 TPM, depending on the chipset (when they are available, of course). This is one of the reasons why IBM has created two variants of the Summit chipset - one for 32-bit Intel Xeon MP chips and one for Itanium 2 and later 64-bit chips - that have about 80% commonality. IBM is expected to debut its "Man 'O War" 16-way Summit machine, which is expected to support the McKinley and Foster chips, before the end of the year.

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