• 07/26/2013
    11:46 AM
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Intel's Data Center Plan: More Than Chips

The chip giant aims to shape future data center designs for everything from rack-level systems to software defined networks and servers.

For networks, Intel preached the gospel of SDN, OpenFlow and NFV (using Vyatta as an example) and showed a reference server chassis, the Intel Open Network Platform, for OpenFlow switches and controllers.

Essentially a 2U rack-mount server optimized for network applications, it uses Xeon processors, the Fulcrum-acquired FM6700 switch silicon, and Intel's 89xx communications chipset, all controlled by the Wind River embedded OS running an OpenFlow software stack, complete with Quantum plugin. The platform already has one design win, from Quanta, with more on the way.

Intel had few concrete details to share around storage and big data, although it did reveal impressive results on a data sorting benchmark using the Intel-optimized Hadoop distribution (yes, it's participating in Apache projects) paired with an E5-series Xeon with 10 GbE NICs and using SSDs that cut the time to sort 1TB of data from more than four hours to seven minutes.

Of course, this is still Intel, so there's was plenty of news about processor roadmaps, new SoCs optimized for everything from microservers and storage arrays to network appliances and HPC grids. But the takeaway after a day of briefings is that Intel wants a greater hand in defining how its components are used within hyperscale microservers, network switches, SDN controllers, HPC appliances using MIC (many integrated cores, aka Xeon Phi), and storage arrays -- that is, devices at every level of the data center technology stack. Furthermore, Intel wants to exert more influence over, and contribute to, application architectures and technology to ensure that they run best on Intel hardware, obviously in hopes that software performance will drive hardware sales.

It's an extremely aggressive agenda and one Intel isn't hubristic enough to tackle on its own, hence its participation in so many open source projects and industry consortia, including Open Compute, OpenFlow, OVS, OpenStack, OpenDaylight.

It's clear that Intel sees both an opportunity and a threat as the data center makes a generational change to cloud-like, massively distributed, software controlled infrastructure, and it doesn't want to miss this one like it did the mobile client transition. But we're still early in this cycle. I am encouraged by Intel's direction, however the company has plenty of powerful competitors such as Cisco and EMC pushing their own agendas in areas where Intel has never been a force, so it's unlikely Intel's dream will play out exactly as scripted.

Still, I think the company is pointed in the right direction and seems willing to make major changes that potentially undermine some of its cash cow businesses like Xeon CPUs and chipsets to ensure long term success in the data center. And if it scrapes a few elbows with other big IT vendors, so much the better for IT customers.

Full disclosure: The event was sponsored by Intel and the vendor paid for all travel and accommodations.

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