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Is Your Network Ready For Romley?

Server manufacturers have been quick to roll out new models designed to run on Intel’s new Xeon E5 family of processors, a.k.a. Romley, which touts an 80% performance improvement over earlier Xeon versions. As surely as the knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone, a boost in server performance is going to demand a bigger network pipeline. Networking vendors and other industry experts think the introduction of Romley is going to be a significant catalyst for adoption of 10-Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) connectivity to replace 1 GbE switches running in networks today.

Adoption has been slow since the 10-GbE industry standard was approved back in 2002, being deployed first in core network switching and more recently in blade servers, says Stuart Miniman, principal research contributor at Wikibon, a blog website where researchers share their knowledge.

"We’ve been waiting for this [Romley] release because this should be moving us to mass adoption in the rack and tower environments," Miniman said during a recent webcast hosted by Wikibon on Romley.

Citing research from Ethernet adapter and semiconductor maker Broadcom, Miniman noted that 2 million of the 8 million servers (or 25%) that were shipped in 2010 were to run in 10-GbE environments. With the launch of Romley, that number is expected grow to 50% in 2012.

The research firm Dell’Oro Group has a similarly bullish forecast on 10-GbE adoption, saying that it will become the top-selling category of Ethernet switches by 2016, ahead of the incumbent 1-GbE and the next-generation 40-GbE switches.

"With Romley, you’re seeing a lot more top-of-rack switches, so some of your spend is moving from the core of the network to the server access layer," says Alan Weckel, senior director at Dell'Oro Group.

Among the server vendors rolling out new Romley-powered servers simultaneously with Intel’s announcement is HP, whose ProLiant Gen8 line offers six blade and rack server options, along with an array of 10-GbE switches.

ProLiant Gen8s with Romley are best suited for IT workloads such as virtualization, video streaming, big data and high-performance computing (HPC), said McLeod Glass, director of product marketing for the Industry Standard Servers and Software business at HP, who appeared on the Wikibon webcast. Workloads not as well-suited for Romley are those that run just fine today on the Intel EX, also known as Nehalem, processors. These apps are typically large database, single-image applications that depend on a large memory footprint. HP ProLiant DL580 G7 and DL 980 G7 servers running EX have a memory cache capacity greater than what is available in an E5, he said.

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