By using Intel® Xeon® processors E5-2400/2600 (formerly codenamed “Romley”) system developers can build powerful server platforms with up to 68 processor cores for every 1U of rack space. This allows companies to meet the demand for more data intensive computing solutions within current space and power consumption restrictions.


In this blog I am going to explore the different approaches to packing high-performance processors into limited rack space and the benefits that Intel® Xeon® processors E5-2400/2600 bring to server platforms. A number of companies in the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance provide market-ready server solutions. For this blog I have been talking to Austin Hipes, VP of Technology at NEI, an affiliate member of the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance.


Cloud and Traditional Data Centers Driving Server Densities


The demand for higher density server solutions continues to grow, driven by the requirements for cloud and traditional data centers, and high-performance computing (HPC). Cloud data centers include large numbers of servers configured as virtual machines serving many customers. Traditional data centers range from small units with a few servers up to large server farms run by international organizations, such as Amazon and Google, and financial institutions.  HPC sites also require large numbers of servers.


1U/2U servers have traditionally been used in small and many larger data centres. Each server is self-contained with motherboard, storage, power supplies and cooling. This approach, that has been very successful in providing stable platforms and a simple architecture, no longer delivers the density required for larger data centers that must fit within tight space and power consumption constraints.. Even with the latest Intel® Xeon® processors E5-2400/2600 the maximum number of cores per 1U of rack space using traditional 1U/2U dual processor servers is 16.


Multi-Node Servers


Multi-node servers pack four servers into a single 2U chassis. These servers are built using smaller motherboards with a reduced number of PCI Express slots and fewer memory modules than a standard server. Each server has a dedicated disk and I/O interfaces but  shares power and cooling infrastructure with 1-3 other nodes. Multi-node servers with Intel® Xeon® processors E5-2400/2600 are available from a number of well-known vendors including Dell, Fujitsu, HP and QuantaQCT. A quad-node rack mount server is shown in Figure 1. This approach supports up to 32 processor cores per 1U of rack space.


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Figure 1. Quad-node rackmount server


Blade Servers


Blade servers have been widely deployed and consist of a 6U, 7U, 9U or 10U chassis with up to 20 server blades in each chassis. Most blade servers have redundant power supply and cooling units built into a proprietary chassis. I/O from each server blade is switched through switch modules also plugged into the chassis. Blade servers support advanced system management and hot swapping of blades and other components. Blade servers are available from several vendors including Dell, HP, IBM and Supermicro. Blade servers will support up to 240 Intel® Xeon® processors E5-2400/2600 in 42U rack. This provides a density of 45.7 processor cores per 1U of rack space.


“Bare Bones” Servers

“Barebones” servers combine many benefits of both multimode servers and blade servers. “Bare bones” servers are built using stripped down motherboards with only the features required for servers. A multi-node server blade is shown in Figure 2. System management is kept to a minimum reducing cost and complexity. This approach allows higher density systems using off the shelf hardware as promoted by Facebook through the Open Compute Project.


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Figure 2. Multi-node server blade


“Bare bones” blade servers are ideal for large data centers. These blade server systems with that Intel® Xeon® processors E5-2400/2600 blades and back to back stacking can have 96 blade slots in a 45U equivalent rack as shown in Figure 3. Bottom to top cooling significantly increases the total power envelope for the system. Each 550W server slot can support up to four 8 core CPUs giving a total of 3072 cores and a density of 68 cores per 1U of rack space.


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Figure 3. High Density “Bare Bones” Blade Server


Benefits from using Intel® Xeon® processors E5-2400/2600

The Intel® Xeon® processors E5-2400/2600 integrate up to 8 cores per socket, 33% more than the previous generation devices. The processors integrate advanced power management and are available with power ratings from 50W to 135W. The devices support three or four low voltage DDR3 memory channels delivering higher performance and lower power. The integration of PCI express 3.0 interfaces reduces the number of I/O cards needed.


The combination of more cores and higher integration makes the Intel® Xeon® processors E5-2400/2600 ideal for high density server systems in cloud and traditional data centers, and high-performance computing. The enhanced power management and low power options enable server densities up to 68 cores per 1U of rack space.


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Dell and HP are associate members of the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance. NEI and SuperMicro are affiliate members of the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance.


Simon Stanley

Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Embedded Alliance

Principal Consultant, Earlswood Marketing

Follow me on Twitter:@simon_stanley