Intel’s new E5 family of Xeon processors, introduced Tuesday, has been touted as a way of powering a new generation of servers built for delivering cloud-scale computing capacity. But the Xeon E5-2600 series also has positive implications for networking, including promoting stronger adoption of 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) as the successor to 1-GbE connectivity.
"Most of the servers are connected with 1 Gig, and with the new servers it will be the catalyst that will bring the majority of servers up to 10 Gig,” says Sameh Boujelbene, a business analyst of controller and adapter markets at Dell’Oro Group, a research firm that focuses on networking.
Today, fewer than 10% of stand-alone servers are connected to 10-GbE switches, Boujelbene stated at the E5 launch event in San Francisco. Once the new Intel processors catch on, Dell’Oro forecasts, that number will rise to 20% in 2012 and to 50 by 2014. "This is all thanks to this new processor. This couldn’t be done with the old processors," she says.
At the end of January Dell'Oro forecast that sales of 10-GbE switches will reach $13 billion by 2016 and will constitute nearly half of a total $28 billion Ethernet switch market by then. And even as data center operators upgrade from 1-Gbit Ethernet switches to 10-Gbit Ethernet to handle exponentially larger volumes of network data traffic, sales of even faster 40-Gbit Ethernet and 100-Gbit Ethernet switches will also be picking up. By 2016, sales of 40-Gbit Ethernet and 100-Gbit Ethernet products will amount to $3 billion, Dell'Oro said in its five-year forecast for the Ethernet switch market.
Intel executives and some customers already using the E5s detailed its improved performance, lower latency, better security and energy-efficiency capabilities at the launch event. Intel also introduced the Ethernet Controller X540, which it described as the first fully integrated 10GBASE-T controller for a LAN on motherboard installation right in a server.
Unlike the previous-generation Xeon 5600 series chips, the E5s feature what Intel calls Data Direct I/O that shortens the path that data takes through the new processor. Previously, data took a circuitous route, which meant it took "more time for the data to get to where it needs to be," said Nazeem Noordeen, project manager for microprocessor design at Intel. But Data Direct I/O intelligently rearchitects data flow so that the processor is the primary destination for network traffic. "This means that the latency between the processor and the network adapter is very short, which doubles the I/O capabilities of the E5 family," he said. Specifically, latency can be reduced by 30%, according to Intel, adding that the new Xeons improve overall system performance by as much as 80% (citing benchmarking results).
The network performance benefits of the E5s were demonstrated by Alex Rodriguez, VP of systems engineering and product development at Expedient Communications, a cloud service provider that deployed 10-GbE switches on its E5-powered cloud offering. Expedient reported a 23% reduction in the number of switch ports and cables needed on its network, a 14% reduction in infrastructure costs and a 150% increase in server bandwidth, Rodriguez said.