Intel builds servers. Who knew and why is it important for you?

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Sponsored With the continuing adoption of cloud services and growth of hybrid solutions, the market continues to diversify in terms of offerings and solutions. From OEMs to ISVs, the big seven and new wave cloud, from HCI to traditional HPC customers. This is also true for Intel’s partners and customers where business models are constantly changing to create differentiation and value for the markets they serve.

Intel has continued to invest in processor, network and storage technologies and the Systems business within Intel brings the value of these investments across Intel’s portfolio to the market faster, with optimised and differentiated products and solutions.

Intel has a long history of architecting and manufacturing server products that have been used to test CPUs, network interface cards (NICs), memory and storage components for interoperability and performance. Intel offers a portfolio ranging from components (Processor, Networking and Storage) to motherboards and chassis, to Configure-to-Order integrated servers and solutions, all delivered through the indirect channel of OEMs, Resellers and Distributors. The portfolio enables Intel scale partners to take advantage of Intel’s technology in the most effective and relevant way to differentiate and compete in their markets.

Intel® Data Center Blocks (Intel® DCB) include a range of 1U/2U rack servers, entry level offerings serving the SMB market optimised for edge, web and basic workloads, to mainstream Enterprise class servers to dense high core-count memory bandwidth servers that are optimised for analytical and HPC workloads. Built to order and customised, the systems can be deployed quickly, with the added knowledge that the Intel components pre-configured at the system-level are tuned and tested to ensure reliable performance.

‘Big-Systems’ technology know-how

So, what do Intel® DCB systems offer from a technology perspective to satisfy even the most challenging workloads?

The systems were upgraded last year to use the company’s latest CPU, memory, storage and network innovations. This includes the 14-nanometer 2nd Generation Intel® Xeon® Scalable Processors with associated chipsets launched in 2019 offer a performance boost thanks to additional cores, faster clock speeds and bigger caches. There’s also opportunity to onboard is Intel® Optane™ Persistent Memory (DCPMM), a new data-centric memory architecture that further improves system performance by storing high volumes of data in high-capacity memory modules (up to 512GB) that sit between DRAM and solid state drive (SSD) storage components and closer to the CPU. This helps reduce latency with a better performance/cost ratio than purchasing equivalent amounts of DRAM.

Speed and efficiency of SSD read/write operations are boosted, too. Systems feature Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe) host controller interfaces, which circumvent the data transfer limitations imposed by SATA and SAS interfaces on direct attached storage (DAS) solid state drives. DAS NVMe storage consumes fewer CPU cycles per I/O and matches multiple queues against the parallel processing functions in Intel’s multicore CPUs.

Direct server-to-server and server-to-storage data transfers between application memory is possible without needing to offload the processing overhead to the CPU. This is enabled using 10Gigabit Ethernet NICs that support remote directory memory access (RDMA), which bypasses the TCP/IP stack. This, combined with NVMe, means Intel® DCB systems can be used in clusters that share application workloads and thereby help optimise system and application performance.

The Intel® AVX-512 instruction set, which is a set of CPU instructions embedded within Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors that doubles the width of the register file to 512bits, helps to accelerate performance for workloads in demanding scenarios such as simulations, financial analytics, AI/DL, 3D modelling and analysis, cryptography, data compression and image and audio/video processing. They also let you use available storage resources more efficiently with support for functions such as tiering, de-duplication, thin provisioning, compression and decompression.

Intel® AVX-512 sits alongside integrated Intel® QuickAssist (Intel® QAT) Technology that helps accelerate and compress cryptographic workloads. It does this by offloading data from software to hardware, which can optimise the processing and analysis. This capability is particularly useful for developers who are building performance accelerators into network and security applications.

Server boards and systems

These technologies are used in a range of Intel® DCB server boards and systems that have been tailored to support cloud, networking, HCI, storage and HPC servicing AI, ML and DL workloads.

The Intel® Server System S9200WK family, for example, features the latest Intel® Xeon® Platinum 9200 processor, come with 24 DDR4 DIMM slots per compute module to maximise CPU and memory bandwidth to deliver advanced performance for the most demanding of dense HPC environments.

Another multi-node system is the S2600BP - a dual-socket 2nd Generation Intel® Xeon® Scalable Processor system supporting dual 10GbE NICs or SFP+ fibre optical transceivers, Intel® QuickAssist (Intel® QAT) Technology and up to 2.8TB of Intel® Optane™ DCPMM across 16 DIMMs (two DIMMs per channel) for large memory bandwidth.

The entry Level M20MYP is a flexible, 1U server ideal for edge computing, web and basic workloads. The Intel® S2600STR Server Board was designed to form the basis of purpose-built appliances for small to medium enterprises (SMEs) that require up to two CPUs backed by up to 2TB of memory spread across 16 DIMMs and dual 10Gbase-T Ethernet ports.

The Intel® DCB portfolio already forms the basis of ISV certified systems developed by hybrid cloud service providers and storage appliance manufacturers, including hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) storage appliances from Nutanix and VMware.

Intel has worked with these companies to build and optimise DCB systems for cloud using all flash and hybrid storage components that increase the performance of VMware’s virtual SAN (vSAN) Ready Nodes software-defined storage virtualisation platform, the Nutanix Enterprise Cloud and Microsoft’s Windows Server. This work means that customers upgrading and modernising their storage infrastructure get a pre-configured certified package.

Off-system benefits

With demand growing for powerful systems, it’s important that OEMs, resellers and distributors reduce their lead times on build and delivery.

It can be challenging to assemble, configure and test dedicated servers and appliances from different manufacturers’ components quickly and at scale. The pre-configured nature of these boards is one way of shortening that time, but Intel also provides a web-based Configure to Order (CTO) software tool that means partners can build a customised system using validated Intel® DCB components and leverage pre-defined configurations optimised for certain workloads.

Systems are backed by an Intel three-year warranty and support resources that include a dedicated channel account manager, access to a video support library with tips on sales, marketing and technology, as well as training for reseller and distributor employees. Intel also operates a points system that allows partners to get hold of demonstration equipment and purchase processors.

Intel partners say that the top three reasons to invest in Intel servers are, access to engineering and high-quality product, coupled with fast time to market and excellent support and warranty service, together enabling them to compete and deliver the highest value to their customers, ie: you.

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