Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun Microsystems Inc. has begun shipping AMD's recently released 45-nanometer quad-core Opteron processor, code-named Shanghai, in Sun's x64 server product line and blade servers, from the x2100 Web servers to the eight-socket x4600 M2.
Servers containing Shanghai processors take aim at the performance overhead associated with virtualization environments and potentially boost server consolidation rates. Still, some users may hold out for even higher-core offerings, since AMD and Intel continue to volley back and forth, upping processor cores on a rapid-fire basis.
Sun is the last tier-one OEM to announce Shanghai-based servers; last month, IBM began offering it in its BladeCenter LS22 and LS 42 servers, plus the IBM System x3455 and the System x3755, HP offers it in ProLiant servers and Dell Inc. ships Shanghai in eight PowerEdge blade, rack and tower servers. Several system builders have Shanghai-based servers, the most notable (and closest to tier one) is Rackable Systems, according to AMD. Smaller companies have shipped systems designed around Shanghai processors include Penguin Computing, Colfax International, and Appro International.
In Sun's systems, the latest AMD quad-core chip adds performance at a lower price than Barcelona chips (at $377, it's about half the price of Barcelona when it hit the market earlier this year). Though Shanghai costs less than Barcelona and some vendors have reduced U.S. server prices given the faltering economy, Sun's server prices with AMD's 45nm Opteron chip remain about the same as servers shipped with Barcelona, said Dimitris Dovas, the director of systems marketing for Sun x64 volume systems.Boosting virtualization performance
But users who upgrade from Barcelona to Shanghai -- which fits into the same Socket 1207 architecture -- can expect to see 15% to 35% better performance, depending on the application, Dovas said.
Also, since Shanghai includes virtualization-assist technologies like Rapid Virtualization Indexing, or RVI (aka Nested Page Tables), which reduces the performance overhead of virtualizing large applications, upgrading with Shanghai in Sun x64 servers equals better virtualization performance, Sun claims. It also offers more Level 3 cache (at 6 MB) than the 2 MB on Barcelona, which is good for memory-hungry virtualization software, Dovas said.
Given these features, packing Shanghai chips into Sun's bigger boxes can mean a higher virtual-to-physical consolidation ratio as well, Dovas said. "The virtualization message we are delivering on these systems is very strong. We have seen several customers on [an eight socket] X4600 M2 who were running up to 80 VMs [using Barcelona]. Now with Shanghai, customers can easily go to 115 VMs on that machine, depending on the workloads," Dovas said.
The 11 Sun servers and blades equipped with Shanghai chips will begin shipping next week, except for the 4100 and 4200 systems, which will begin shipping in January.
Users who aren't impressed by the improvements of quad-core Shanghai might want to wait until the second half of 2009 to upgrade, when AMD plans to roll out a six-core chip, code-named Istanbul, based on the same chipset and platform (Socket F) as Barcelona and Shanghai. It will also be a native processor (with all six cores on a single piece of silicon), and like Shanghai, it will be a 45-nm processor with 6 MB of Level 3 cache and will use DDR2, or dual-channel, memory.
Never to be outdone, Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel Corp. already released its six-core 45-nm Intel Xeon 7400 processor back in September and plans to release an eight core processor in early 2010.
At that time, AMD plans to leapfrog Intel and offer a 12-core processor and skip the eight-core processor altogether.