June will see the debut of HP's ProLiant rack and tower servers using Advanced Micro Devices' twelve-core "Magny-Cours" Opteron 6100 processors.
It looks like HP's server geeks are going to be busy at the Tech Forum 2010 customer and partner event in Las Vegas later this month — in addition to the Opteron 6100 boxes, El Reg already caught wind of HP's upcoming and some would say overdue ProLiant servers running Intel's "Nehalem-EX" Xeon 7500 processors.
Both the Xeon 7500s and Opteron 6100s were rolled out in March, along with the quad-core "Tukwila" Itanium 9300s, but HP has taken its own sweet time getting machines to market, focusing more on getting the six-core "Westmere-EP" Xeon 5600s into existing ProLiant machines.
Some HP shops and channel partners are no doubt annoyed at HP for taking so long getting new iron into the field, but HP was clearly looking at its supply chain of parts and order backlog and pipeline, and optimizing for revenue, not minimizing for grousing. Say what you will, but HP has knocked IBM out of the top revenue spot in the server racket thanks to the ProLiant line, and that's something that no other vendor has done in 45 years.
According to sources familiar with HP's plans for later this month — and most likely at the HP Tech Forum or just before it — the ProLiant lineup is not just getting refreshed with a few new Xeon 5600 boxes and the two new Xeon 7500 machines, the quad-socket ProLiant DL580 and the eight-socket DL980, but there is a new rack and two new blade servers using the Opteron 6100s coming down the pike as well.
The workhorses in the ProLiant lineup are the DL385 G7, a two-socket box using the Opteron 6100s, and the DL380 G7, which is a two-socket machine using Xeon 5600s, which both launched back at the end of March. The Xeon 5600s go into existing ProLiant machines that were designed for last year's "Nehalem-EP" Xeon 5500s, which pretty much single-handedly revived server sales last year. The Opteron 6100s plug into AMD's G34 socket and use AMD's own chipset - the SR56X0 I/O hub and the SP5100 southbridge - which can support two or four sockets in a single system image.
Both are 2U boxes with room for 16 2.5-inch or six 3.5-inch drives; the DL380 G7 can have a dozen Intel Xeon cores and 192GB of main memory (18 memory slots in total give you 144GB using 8GB sticks, and to hit 192GB, you have to use a dozen 16 GB sticks and leave six slots empty). The DL385 G7 tops out at 24 cores and has 24 memory slots, for a maximum of 256GB. (Again, you can get to 192GB using 8GB DIMMs with the AMD chipset, but the Opteron 6100's on-chip memory controller can only address 128GB max, so if you put 16GB sticks in the DL385 G7, you only use 16 of the 24 memory slots to top out at 256 GB in the whole machine.) HP also kicked out a 1U ProLiant DL165 G7 low-budget Opteron 6100 machine, which has fewer expansion slots and only supports four big or eight little disk drives.
This, of course, is not a complete product line, and HP knows it. The word on the street is that the four-socket DL585 will be refreshed in June with the Opteron 6100s and AMD chipsets. It's likely that the machine will look very much like the 4U DL580 G7 using Xeon 7500s we told you about earlier in the week, but with different processors and memory slots. Expect the DL585 G7 to have four sockets (supporting a maximum of 48 cores) and 48 memory slots (for a maximum of 512GB because of the on-chip memory controllers). That's double the processor and memory capacity of the four-socket DL585 G6 that is based on the six-core "Istanbul" Opteron 8400 processors. The base machine is expected to have five PCI-Express 2.0 slots, expandable to eleven using optional mezzanine expanders, just like the Xeon 7500-based DL580 G7.
There can be no kicker to the eight-socket ProLiant DL785 G6 server, which crammed eight Opteron 8400 processors and 512 GB of memory into a 7U chassis, because the Opteron 6100s only support four G34 sockets. The DL585 G7 does roughly the same work as the DL785 G6, but with half the sockets and half the memory slots (using 16GB DDR3 sticks on the newer machine and 8GB DDR2 sticks on the older one). So there's no loss of ground and software licensing (for code charged on a per-socket basis) should be cheaper, too. Couple that with the fact that AMD is charging quite a bit less per socket for the Opteron 6100s than it did for the Opteron 8400s, and you get a pretty good bang for the buck.
But the scalability-limit issue with Opterons has not changed. You're still at 48 cores and 512GB of memory, max. And Intel's Xeon 7500s are scaling further on memory — which is more important on many physical and virtual workloads than CPU cores or threads — right now. So the advantage is still in some cases going to Intel.
And the blades...
On the blade front, the rumor is that HP will update two Opteron blade servers — the two-socket, half-height ProLiant BL465c and the four-socket, full-height BL685c — so they can use AMD's chipsets and the Opteron 6100 chips.
The BL465c G6 has eight DDR2 memory slots, and another blade, the BL495c G6, is also a two-socket, half-height Opteron server machine that had sixteen DDR2 slots. Apparently, this BL495c G6 blade will not be updated to use the Opteron 6100 chips. Or more precisely, the two-socket BL465c G7 will look a lot like the BL495c G6, sporting sixteen memory slots and two Opteron sockets, and there will not be an Opteron 6100 blade with only eight memory slots.
The Opteron 6100s have twice the cores per socket and the G7 blades can use 16GB memory sticks instead of 8GB modules, and that means HP and AMD can say this blade packs twice the oomph of its predecessor. But in the dark with the covers off, wandering around the blades with your fingers, you would be hard pressed to tell the difference, I suspect.
The four-socket BL685c G6 blade has 32 memory slots to feed those six-core Opteron 8400 processors, and it looks like the new G7 version sporting Opteron 6100s will also have 32 slots. With 16GB DDR3 DIMMs, the machine maxes out at 512GB, the peak you can get in a four-socket Magny-Cours box because of the limits on the memory controller, without leaving any empty slots.
What no one seems to be talking about yet is how HP plans to use the "Lisbon" six-core and eight-core Opteron 4100s in low-priced racks, towers, or blades with one or two sockets. These chips are supposed to be the price/performance leaders, and they're due in the second quarter (which runs from June through August). No one likes to do launches in July or August because of the summer holidays, so that should mean a June launch — quite possibly concurrent with HP's upcoming server ProLiant announcements, presumably coming at the Tech Forum 2010, which runs from June 21 through 23. While we have good information on the feeds and speeds of the upcoming ProLiant Xeon 7500 and Opteron 6100 servers, the exact timing of the launch is still unclear.
Vendors have been somewhat slow about getting Opteron 6100 products into the field, no doubt because of the re-engineering and qualification they need to do in what is still a tough economy. Doing such work for a product that will represent 80 per cent of your volume can be justified, but it is harder to justifying doing the same work for a product that might be only 20 per cent of shipments. No one is talking about Opteron 4100 servers, and presumably they are right around the corner. ®