The six-core Opteron is not an alternative to the mighty Xeons in every application. The Xeons are more versatile thanks to the higher clockspeeds, higher IPC, Hyperthreading and higher bandwidth to memory. The Xeon 55xx series is clearly the better choice in OLTP, ERP, webserving, rendering and there is little doubt that it will continue to reign in the bandwidth intensive HPC workloads. There are two types of applications where we feel that the AMD six-core deserves your attention: decision support databases and virtualization.

Since the launch of ESX 3.5, VMware has said more than once that performance-critical applications such as OLTP and Decision Support Databases will perform well on top of their hypervisor. Several enhancements make the newly launched vSphere 4 an even more attractive platform for such "heavy duty" applications. Hyper-V R2 and Xen 3.4 are clearly gearing up for the same task. So it is interesting that companies are now looking into virtualizing those performance-critical applications, the applications that still got their own dedicated server a few months ago. The motivation is that virtualizing these applications would allow the complete datacenter to be managed with the same flexibility as the light, already consolidated, applications. VMotion (Xenmotion, Live Migration) can then for example be used to migrate these applications faster and much more easily.

Of course, performance-critical applications are by definition more demanding when it comes to processing power. That is exactly what vApus Mark I measures: how well do performance-critical applications perform when they are virtualized? This is a relatively “new” market where the AMD 2435 shines. The new Opteron 2435 at 2.6 GHz was a pleasant surprise on vApus Mark I: it keeps up with more expensive Xeons on ESX 3.5 update 4 while consuming less, and offers a competitive performance/watt and performance/price ratio on vSphere 4. The six-core Opteron is about 11 to 30% slower on vSphere 4 than the 2.93 GHz Xeon X5570 but the overall cost of the Istanbul platform is significantly lower (DDR-2 versus DDR-3) and the 2.6 GHz 2435 consumes less power in a virtualized environment (*). On the condition that you optimize your hypervisor well to take advantage of the six cores (cell size is for example one critical optimization), we feel that the six-core Opteron is a worthy opponent for the Xeon “Nehalem” in this market. We tested only the 2435 versus the X55xx series. The Xeon E5540 2.53 GHz versus the Opteron 2431 2.4 GHz may show a slightly different view… the six-core Opteron and Xeon are both very competitive in this area, other factors than performance/price/power might conclude the decision. There is no clear winner in this part of the market, but the big news is of course that AMD offers a worthy alternative.

VMmark tells us that the Xeon X55xx handles large amounts of VM’s much better. With “light VM’s” the amount of memory you can place in a server plays in many cases a more important role than the CPU. In that case you might be better off with a low power quad-core instead of a six-core or high-clocked quad-core.

Lastly, the six-core Opteron will be a formidable competitor in the 4P market segment. But that is for a later article.

(*) Virtualized servers do not run idle very often.
A big thanks to Tijl Deneut for sacrificing his weekend to keep testing and checking together with me. Anand and Liz helped to get this article online, thanks!
Power Consumption & Market Analysis
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  • befair - Wednesday, June 3, 2009 - link

    yeah, yeah, its always "more details review coming soon"
  • smith1795 - Thursday, June 4, 2009 - link">">
  • genkk - Tuesday, June 2, 2009 - link

    ohhh I see, johan is only doing what his boss (anand) has told him so...
  • aguilpa1 - Monday, June 1, 2009 - link

    As an AMD fanboy I skipped to the one metric that AMD shows competitive performance and focused on that ignoring all other.
  • classy - Monday, June 1, 2009 - link

    That is laughable. Lets see I have only purchased all Intel servers in the last 7 years. But in the last 2 years anyone who does any system administration knows virtualization has just leaped to the forefront. Its that important. Even email is being virtualized. Databases are still physical and will probably be for some time to come. But make no mistake about it, how well it does at virtualizing is at the top of the list. Especially considering the recent recession. Virtualizing allows more to be done with less of everything. Next time maybe have some experience in something else besides reading the internet and maybe you might understand a thing or two.
  • Natfly - Monday, June 1, 2009 - link

    Virtualization isn't the be-all end-all of computing. It definitely can be a way to make more efficient use of your hardware, but the "virtualize everything" mentality isn't going to help you in the long run.
  • solicitorsuk - Saturday, September 26, 2009 - link

    This is the thing that i looking for from couple months ago.">
  • nycromes - Tuesday, June 2, 2009 - link

    I don't think thats really what he/she was saying, they were saying that in terms of the IT world, Virtualization is now one of the (if not the) most important features. Right now, there are major pushes in the industry to make more efficient use of hardware, virtualization is one major part of doing that. I agree that a "virtualize everything" mentality is not good, but the OP makes a great point about the importance of virtualization in todays IT world.
  • Jakey1999 - Thursday, May 6, 2010 - link


    What would you recommend for a SQL Server 2005 64bit database server? Hybrd, system OTLP and OLAP - 75% read. Thanks. Please respond to e-mail "". Thanks man.
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