Intel Skylake: Xeon Goes from Chip to Platform

By Doug Black

July 13, 2017

With yesterday’s New York unveiling of the new “Skylake” Xeon Scalable processors, Intel made multiple runs at multiple competitive threats and strategic markets. Skylake will carry Intel’s flag in the fight for leadership in the emerging advanced data center encompassing highly demanding network workloads, cloud computing, real time analytics, virtualized infrastructures, high-performance computing and artificial intelligence.

Most interesting, Skylake takes a big step toward accommodating what one industry analyst has called “the wild west of technology disaggregation,” life in the post-CPU-centric era.

“What surprised me most is how much platform goodness Intel brought to the table,” said industry watcher Patrick Moorhead, Moor Insights & Strategy, soon after the launch announcement. “I wasn’t expecting so many enhancements outside of the CPU chip itself.”

In fact, Moorhead said, Skylake turns Xeon into a platform, one that “consists of CPUs, chipset, internal and external accelerators, SSD flash and software stacks.”

The successor to the Intel Xeon processor E5 and E7 product lines, Skylake has up to 28 high-performance cores and provides platform features with, according to Intel, significant performance increases, including:

  • Artificial Intelligence: Delivers 2.2x higher deep learning training and inference compared to the previous generation, according to Intel, and 113x deep learning performance gains compared to a three-year-old non-optimized server system when combined with software optimizations accelerating delivery of AI-based services.
  • Networking: Delivers up to 2.5x increased IPSec forwarding rate for networking applications compared to the previous generation when using Intel QuickAssist and Deep Platform Development Kit.
  • Virtualization: Operates up to approximately 4.2x more virtual machines versus a four-year-old system for faster service deployment, server utilization, lower energy costs and space efficiency.
  • High Performance Computing: Provides up to a 2x FLOPs/clock improvement with Intel AVX-512 (the 512-bit extensions to the 256-bit Advanced Vector Extensions SIMD instructions for the x86 instruction set architecture) as well as integrated Intel Omni-Path Architecture ports, delivering improved compute capability, I/O flexibility and memory bandwidth, Intel said.
  • Storage: Processes up to 5x more IOPS while reducing latency by up to 70 percent versus out-of-the-box NVMe SSDs when combined with Intel Optane SSDs and Storage Performance Development Kit, making data more accessible for advanced analytics.

Overall, Intel said, Skylake delivers performance increase up to 1.65x versus the previous generation of Intel processors, and up to 5x OLTP warehouse workloads versus the current install base.

The company also introduced Intel Select Solutions, aimed at simplifying deployment of data center and network infrastructure, with initial solutions delivery on Canonical Ubuntu, Microsoft SQL 16 and VMware vSAN 6.6. Intel said this is an expansion of the Intel Builders ecosystem collaborations and will offer Intel-verified configurations for specific workloads, such as machine learning inference, and is then sold and marketed as a package by OEMs and ODMs under the “Select Solution” sub-brand.

Intel said Xeon Scalable platform is supported by hundreds of ecosystem of partners, more than 480 Intel builders and 7,000-plus software vendors, including support from Amazon, AT&T, BBVA, Google, Microsoft, Montefiore, Technicolor and Telefonica.

But it’s Intel’s support for multiple processing architectures that drew the most attention.

Moorhead said Skylake enables heterogeneous compute in several ways. “First off, Intel provides the host processer, a Xeon, as you can’t boot to an accelerator. Inside of Xeon, they provide accelerators like AVX-512. Inside Xeon SoCs, Intel has added FPGAs. Inside the PCH contains a QAT accelerator. Intel also has PCIe accelerator cards for QAT and FPGAs.”

In the end, Moorhead said, the Skylake announcement is directed at datacenter managers “who want to run their apps and do inference on the same machines using the new Xeons.” He cited Amazon’s support for this approach, “so it has merit.”

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