Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Intel Partners Debut Latest Servers Based on the New Intel Gen 3 ‘Ice Lake’ Xeon Scalable Processors 

Intel Xeon Scalable processor. Image credit: Intel Corp.

Fresh from Intel’s launch of the company’s latest third-generation Xeon Scalable “Ice Lake” processors on April 6 (Tuesday), Intel server partners Cisco, Dell EMC, HPE and Lenovo simultaneously unveiled their first server models built around the latest chips.

And though arch-rival AMD may have won the first round of the latest global chip fight by unveiling its latest next-generation Epyc server chips three weeks before Intel’s products back on March 15, Intel is apparently not giving up any ground in the fight.

Intel is touting the new Xeon Scalable chips as having performance that is up to 46 percent better than the company’s previous generation of chips, along with major performance improvements in security, flexibility and more.

The Ice Lake processors are 10nm chips that include up to 40 cores per processor, up from 28 cores in the previous generation Cascade Lake chips. Supporting up to 6TB of system memory per socket, the chips provide eight channels of DDR4-3200 memory per socket and up to 64 lanes of PCIe Gen4 per socket, compared to 6 channels of DDR4-2933 and up to 48 lanes of PCI Gen3 per socket for the previous chips. The new chips also include features such as Intel Software Guard Extensions (SGX), Intel Total Memory Encryption (TME) and Intel Speed Select Technology (SST), and are compatible with the latest version of Intel Optane persistent memory modules (PMem). PCIe Gen4 architecture provides throughput at twice the speed of the earlier PCI Gen3 specification.

Rob Enderle, analyst

Rob Enderle, principal analyst with Enderle Group, told EnterpriseAI that the launch of Ice Lake “is arguably one of the most critical launches this decade for Intel” because of previous delays in getting these chips to market. “According to OEMs, Intel’s inability to advance their process technology and remain competitive put them arguably two years behind AMD,” said Enderle.

The Ice Lake family includes 56 SKUs, grouped across 10 segments: 13 are optimized for highest per-core scalable performance (8 to 40 cores, 140-270 watts), 10 for scalable performance (8 to 32 cores, 105-205 watts), 15 target four- and eight- socket (18 to 28 cores, 150-250 watts), and there are three single-socket optimized parts (24 to 36 cores, 185-225 watts). There are also SKUs optimized for cloud, networking, media and other workloads. All but four SKUs support Intel Optane Persistent Memory 200 series technology.

In comparison, AMD’s recently announced  Epyc “Milan” CPUs will be available in 19 SKUs, from a flagship 64-core version to 8-core versions built for a myriad of server workloads. For AI users, the big AMD news was that the latest generation of AMD server chips show promise in improving performance for many AI processes, according to the company.

For Intel’s partners, the bolstered specifications and capabilities in the Ice Lake chips allow them to build more robust and powerful servers for customers who have ever-increasing compute workloads.

While Cisco, Dell EMC, HPE and Lenovo are the first Intel server partners to announce their new hardware at the launch of the Ice Lake chips, other server partners are expected to announce their own boosted server line-ups soon as well.

Here’s a rundown of the first Ice Lake-equipped server products:

Cisco Unveils Three Server Models

Cisco begins its Ice Lake transformation with three new Unified Computing System (UCS) server models that incorporate the new CPUs – the Cisco UCS B200 M6, C220 M6, and C240 M6 servers, built for today’s hybrid and diverse computing environments.

Highlighting the latest UCS servers is native integration with the Cisco Intersight hybrid cloud operations platform, which aims to make it easier for customers to manage their infrastructure wherever it is located through a policy-based system.

With the new capabilities built into the latest Intel chips, the new Cisco servers will be able to fill a wide range of workloads for customers, including Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), databases, AI and machine learning, big data and more, according to Cisco. The new servers are expected to be generally available within about 90 days.

"For over twelve years, Cisco and Intel have been committed to pushing the boundaries in the server market, together delivering many industry-leading innovations,” DD Dasgupta, vice president of product management for the Cisco cloud and compute business unit, said in a statement. “Today’s announcement continues this tradition, and it could not come at a more crucial time. As customers’ hybrid cloud journeys accelerate, the need for simple yet powerful solutions increase. Cisco and Intel are proud to deliver solutions that not only meet the demands of today’s workloads but provide the foundations necessary to embrace new and emerging technologies.”

Dell EMC Reiterates Its Ice Lake Plans

Although Intel is officially debuting its new chips today, Dell actually got a leg up on the competition by announcing its plans for its first Ice Lake-equipped servers back on March 17, right after the latest AMD Epyc chips were unveiled.

That’s when Dell unveiled its PowerEdge R750 server, as well as its PowerEdge R750xa, which the company said is purpose-built to boost acceleration performance for machine learning training, inferencing and AI. The PowerEdge R750xa is a dual socket, 2U server that supports up to four double-wide GPUs and six single-wide GPUs. Other Dell server models using the new Intel chips are the C6520, the MX750 and the R750, according to the company. The servers are expected to be available globally in May 2021. Several other models, including the Dell EMC PowerEdge R750xs, the R650xs, the R550, the R450 and the ruggedized PowerEdge XR11 and XR12, are expected to be available in the second quarter of 2021.

“Dell Technologies is focused on helping businesses benefit from emerging technologies and innovations that will help them reach their goals faster,” Rajesh Pohani, the company’s vice president of server product management, said in a statement. “Through our close collaboration with Intel, Dell EMC PowerEdge servers deliver better performance and security than ever before, putting customers on a path to autonomous infrastructure that will make IT simpler, more powerful and serve as the innovation engine for moving businesses forward.”

HPE Unveils Eight Ice Lake Server Models

At HPE, Intel’s latest Gen 3 chips are being integrated across eight server lines. This includes the HPE ProLiant DL360 Gen10 Plus, HPE ProLiant DL380 Gen10 Plus and HPE ProLiant DL110 Gen10 Plus standard servers, as well as the HPE Synergy 480 Gen10 Plus server line, which is built for compostable, software-defined infrastructure for hybrid cloud environments.

HPE ProLiant DL380 Gen 10 Plus server

Also getting the new chips are the HPE Edgeline EL8000 Converged Edge systems and the HPE Edgeline EL8000T Converged Edge systems, which are ruggedized systems that are built for extreme edge use cases.

In HPE’s high performance computing (HPC) and AI server lines, the HPE Apollo 2000 Gen10 Plus systems – built for HPC workloads like modeling, simulations and deep learning, as well as AI modeling and training – and the HPE Cray EX supercomputer lineup are also getting Ice Lake CPUs.

Four New Lenovo ThinkSystem Servers with Ice Lake CPUs 

Built for customer workloads in HPC, AI, modeling and simulation, cloud, VDI, advanced analytics and more, Lenovo debuted four new ThinkSystem Server models that incorporate many of the advancements of the latest Intel Ice Lake chips.

The four new server models are the ThinkSystem SR650 V2, the SR630 V2, the ST650 V2 and the SN550 V2, which can be configured in a myriad of ways to meet business demands:

• The ThinkSystem SR650 V2 is a 2U, two-socket server aimed at customers from SMBs to large enterprises and managed cloud service providers, providing speed and expansion along with flexible storage and I/O for business-critical workloads. The systems use Intel Optane persistent memory 200 series and include support for faster PCIe Gen4 networking.

• The ThinkSystem SR630 V2 is a 1U, two-socket server that includes optimized performance and density for hybrid data center workloads such as cloud, virtualization, analytics, computing and gaming.

• The ThinkSystem ST650 V2 is a new two-socket mainstream tower server that uses a slimmer 4U chassis to make it easier and more flexible to deploy in remote offices or branch offices (ROBO), technology or retail locations.

• The ThinkSystem SN550 V2 is part of the HPE Flex System family. Designed for enterprise performance and flexibility in a compact footprint, the SN500 V2 is a blade server node that is optimized for performance, efficiency and security for a wide range of business-critical workloads including cloud, server virtualization, databases and VDI.

Later in 2021, Lenovo expects to bring Intel’s latest Ice Lake processors to its edge computing server line with the introduction of a new highly ruggedized, edge server designed to handle the extreme performance and environmental conditions needed for telecommunications, manufacturing and smarter cities use cases. More details will be announced later in the year.

Intel Again Takes Charge: Analysts

Despite Intel’s earlier delays getting these Ice Lake chips to market and to its partners, the company remains the dominant vendor in the world of CPUs, said analyst Enderle.

“Unlike AMD, which needs a sizeable competitive edge to displace Intel, all Intel needs is to be good enough to hold on to its base,” he said. “Ice Lake is a forklift upgrade, meaning you can’t just replace an older Intel processor with it; you’ll likely need to replace the server. OEMs generally prefer a complete product replacement over a parts upgrade because they are far more lucrative.”

For customers, that’s not as appreciated because of disruptions due to server replacements as well as higher related costs, said Enderle. “As a result, this is unlikely to force a competitive replacement of newer AMD servers,” he said. “Those companies preferring performance over all else may still prefer AMD Epyc over Intel’s latest.  But shops wanting to remain homogenous with aging servers will appreciate the extra performance Ice Lake brought and were unlikely to embrace AMD anyway.”

Karl Freund, analyst

Where Intel really gains over AMD is in Intel’s stronger control over manufacturing, which should also help the company during raw materials shortages, further offsetting their disadvantages, said Enderle. “While I doubt Ice Lake is strong enough to reverse the erosion of Intel’s base to AMD, it should slow it and give Intel time to bring out their next generation, which should be far more competitive.”

Karl Freund, founder and principal HPC, AI and machine learning analyst with Cambrian AI Research, agrees.

“Intel has demonstrated the company’s broad spectrum of technology prowess and leadership in this announcement, from CPUs to memory to encryption and networking,” said Freund. “AMD still enjoys hard-earned leadership in many CPU metrics including performance per core and per socket, but on most other features such as AI performance, Intel clearly has the lead.”

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