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Amazon's new EC2 compute instances run on SECRET INTEL CHIPS

Custom Xeons power high-perf cloudy number crunchers

Amazon Web Services has raised the stakes for high-performance cloud computing with new, compute-optimized instance types for its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) service.

The C4 instance types were first announced at the cloud kingpin's AWS re:Invent conference in Las Vegas in November.

Expanding on the earlier C3 instances, C4 instances are built around Intel Xeon E5-2666 v3 "Haswell" processors with a base speed of 2.9GHz, burstable to 3.5GHz.

If those speeds and that part number don't sound familiar, it's because it's not an off-the-shelf chip. Amazon has bagged custom Xeons, fabbed by Intel, that are specifically optimized for the EC2 environment, we're told.

"We know our environmentals well. We know how to build servers to a certain specification," AWS veep James Hamilton explained to El Reg at AWS re:Invent. "As a consequence, the processors can be pushed harder. Through partnership with Intel, we have processors that are actually running faster at a given core count than is available on the open market."

Like other members of the Xeon E5-2600 series, the E5-2666 delivers additional computational oomph thanks to Intel's Advanced Vector Extensions 2 (AVX2), which can handle vector instructions of up to 256 bytes per clock cycle. AVX2 can reportedly double floating-point performance for some workloads, while improvements in the Haswell microarchitecture can speed up existing applications by as much as 30 per cent.

The low-end c4.large instance type offers a single E5-2666 core that's capable of two processing threads, for a total of two AWS vCPUs. Add in 3.75GB of RAM and 500Mbps of dedicated throughput to Elastic Block Storage (EBS), and you have a moderately fierce little number-cruncher.

The top-level c4.8xlarge instance, on the other hand, is a real monster. It delivers 18 E5-2666 cores for a total of 36 vCPUs – more than some versions of Linux can support. (There's a hack available that limits the instance to 32 vCPUs for older system images, though.) Rounding out the package are 60GB of RAM, 10Gbps network performance, and 4,000Mbps optimized EBS throughput.

Three other C4 instance tiers are available between the two extremes, offering 4, 8, and 16 vCPUs and corresponding boosts in RAM and networking performance.

Naturally, each C4 instance is priced slightly higher than the equivalent C3 instance. They can be purchased as on-demand instances, reserved instances, or Spot instances, and applications can also be launched on C4 instances from the AWS Marketplace. Complete pricing information is available here.

For now, C4 instances are available in the US East (Northern Virginia), US West (Oregon), US West (Northern California), Europe (Ireland), Asia Pacific (Tokyo), Asia Pacific (Singapore), and Asia Pacific (Sydney) AWS regions, with other regions to come at a later date. ®

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