12-core or 6-core, the 'core wars' begin again

by Abhinna Shreshtha    Apr 08, 2010

Arch rivals and leading processor manufacturers - Intel & AMD are bullish about their new multi-core processors. AMD with its 12-core Opteron 6000 series and Intel, with its 6-core Xeon 7500 processor series, are looking to inject life to a server market that is still reeling from the effects of the recession.

With analysts expecting tech spending to increase in 2010, some experts feel the launches of the Xeon and Opteron could not have come at a better time. So can these new processors live up to expectations?

According to Nishant Singh, managing analyst of Ovum Technology, this is extremely likely. "With the economic recession (nearly) over, server upgrades are expected to form a substantial chunk of the infrastructure upgrades that will be seen later this year and in 2011. The new generation of multi-core processors is targeting applications which are heavily threaded - including virtualization and database applications, which is where the older processors start to show their age. The performance jump offered by an upgrade to these multi-core processors no doubt offers an immensely tempting proposal for most of the market," he said.

Even service providers are looking at it in the same way - ‘More processors = more performance per server = less need to maintain a many physical servers = cost savings’ is how they view it. On reaching out to NetMagic, a managed services provider, a spokesperson said the company will be considering servers running the new processors in the future.

Virtualization and consolidation is definitely a top priority on most CIOs’ lists for this year and Intel & AMD seem to have played their cards at the right time. However, a possible concern for businesses could be around applications which are licensed as per-core, as opposed to per-CPU licensing. An increase in the number of cores will lead to a substantial increase in licensing costs of these applications, in effect negating the benefits from the performance improvements of these processors.

Another thing to be kept in mind is that consolidation and higher output per saver could lead to an increase in power usage, which will further balances out any efficiency gained. To avoid this, Singh advises that business evaluate the specific power v/s. workload metric for particular user scenarios in the real-world to ensure that an upgrade to these processors will actually suit their requirements.

So, now if you have decided to upgrade to servers running these new multi-core processors, the next question should be - which one to choose? On asking the same question to NetMagic, we were told that the company would make a decision on the basis of price v/s performance and there were no preferences since they had servers running AMD as well as Intel processors and were happy with both.
Price! - this is where AMD has an edge over Intel. Even if we forget that AMD has managed to pack 12 cores into the Opteron, twice the number that the Xeon boasts of, the Opteron family of processors are much cheaper as compared to the Xeon. This will surely have an effect on buying decisions and maybe make AMD’s Opteron more attractive to users. It has not really helped AMD much in the past, AMD still lags behind Intel in market share despite coming out with cheaper and arguably better products, but maybe in the present conditions this could just turn out to be a vital factor.

Meanwhile, hardware & software vendors like Citrix, IBM, Microsoft, Novell, Oracle, Red Hat, SAP, VMware, Cisco, Cray, Dell, Fujitsu, Hitachi, HP, IBM, NEC, Oracle, etc. are expected to support  Intel’s XEON 7500-based platforms. AMD has not released a list of partners, though a day after the launch, it announced that Acer would be making enterprise servers using the Opteron 6000 series.

The stage has been set with enterprises going to define the demand for multi-core processors as their benefits make for an overwhelming buy. With a long, well recorded history of legal disputes between Intel and AMD, are we looking at a new chapter in the "Core Wars"?