Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Sunday, October 2, 2022

Google Cloud Adds Skylake, Fueling Performance Wars 

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As part of an ongoing effort to differentiate its public cloud services, Google made good this week on its intention to bring custom Xeon Skylake chips from Intel Corp. to its Google Compute Engine.

Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL) announced plans to incorporate the next-generation Intel server chips into its public could last November. On Friday (Feb. 24), Urs Hölzle, Google's senior vice president for cloud infrastructure, said the Skylake upgrade would deliver a significant performance boost for demanding applications and workloads ranging from genomic research to machine learning.

The cloud vendor noted that Skylake includes Intel Advanced Vector Extensions (AVX-512) that target workloads such as data analytics, engineering simulations and scientific modeling. When compared to previous generations, the Skylake extensions are touted as doubling floating-point performance "for the heaviest calculations," Hölzle noted in a blog post.

Internal testing showed improved application performance by as much as 30 percent compared to earlier generations of the Xeon-based chip. The addition of Skylake chips also gives the cloud vendor a temporary performance advantage over its main cloud rivals, Amazon Web Services (NASDAQ: AMZN) and Microsoft Azure (NASDAQ: MSFT), as well as server makers. (Intel also collaborates with AWS.)

Google and Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) launched a cloud alliance last fall designed to boost enterprise cloud adoption. At the time, company executives noted that the processor's AVX-512 extensions could help optimize enterprise and HPC workloads.

"Google and Intel have had a long standing engineering partnership working on datacenter innovation," Diane Bryant, general manager of Intel's datacenter group, added in a statement.

"This technology delivers significant enhancements for compute-intensive workloads" such as data analytics.

Hölzle added that Skylake was tweaked for Google Compute Engine's family of virtual machines, ranging from standard through "custom machine types" to boost the performance of compute instances for enterprise workloads.

Google said Skylake processors are available in five public cloud regions, including those across the United States, Western Europe and the eastern Asian Pacific.

The Google-Intel cloud alliance reflects the fierce competition among public cloud providers seeking to tap into the enterprise IT infrastructure services market. According to a cloud infrastructure services benchmark report released this week, Google ranked ahead of AWS and Microsoft Azure in terms of overall "price-performance value" but trailed smaller cloud vendors such as 1and1, OVH, Digital Ocean and CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL) in terms of virtual CPU performance, memory and block storage.

Benchmarking specialist Cloud Spectator also said its price-performance analysis of the top 10 cloud services providers confirmed disparities among the top vendors, debunking the notion that "all cloud offerings are the same." For example, benchmark tests revealed a nearly two-fold difference in virtual machine performance among the top service providers. Block storage performance varied by as much as 15 times, the benchmarking firm reported.

"As the market demand for cost efficiency of the public cloud grows," the report emphasized "the need for enterprise buyers to be diligent in considering overall performance and right-sizing of VMs."

The report also decried a "lack of transparency" about performance in the public cloud infrastructure marketplace. Users "may be led to view cloud computing as a commodity, differentiated mostly by services. The reality of performance in cloud computing impacts the user differently from [one service provider to another] involving everything from the physical hardware (e.g., Intel or AMD, SSD or spinning disk), to the cost of the virtualized resources."

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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