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Jun 05 2015

Oracle Introduces X5-4 Server with Custom Xeons

A few years back, everybody wondered why all of a sudden Larry Ellison wanted to buy Sun Microsystems. Meanwhile, we know the answer: Oracle's spiritus rector was looking for the right hardware to accommodate the company's many software products as well as the production know-how that came with it and turned "Big Red" into a serious competitor in the server field.

These days, Oracle's server portfolio comprises six different product lines that are based on SPARC and x86 processor architectures and support the whole range of enterprise applications, from 'simple' SCM through middleware to cloud deployments. Probably the most interesting boxes to come out of its server department are the ones equipped with "specially designed" variants of standard Intel processors. The Oracle Server X5-4, which was introduced on the company's Hardware Blog the other day, is such a system.

On the surface, the new box may not appear like a breakthrough achievement. 4 Haswell-EX processors with 18 cores each, 3 TB of main memory, 7.2 TB internal storage capacity, and 11 PCIe 3.0 expansion slots look rather normal, and so does a job description that tasks the X5-4 with "consolidating enterprise applications and [...] running in-memory databases." Fitting SSDs into a server may be less conventional, but the concept itself has been around a while. So there has to be something else under the hood to get the attention of server admins and CIOs – and indeed there is:

  • Each X5-4 is equipped with Intel® Xeon® E7-8895 v3 processors. As noted above, these are custom CPUs that derive from the standard Xeon® E7-8890 v3 product line and were created in close collaboration by both firms' developer teams. According to Josh Rosen, x86 Product Manager at Oracle, the updated E7-8895 effectively merges "the capabilities of three different Intel Xeon processors" (most likely the 8890, 8891 and 8893), with its most important feature being that it allows customers to vary the number of active cores and their frequency (clock speed) based on workload requirements at any point in time – without rebooting the system.
  • For maximum internal throughput, Oracle's quad-socket box can be fitted with SSDs that use NVM Express (NVMe), a high-bandwidth flash technology that has been under development since 2007 and was first released to the market in summer 2012. To make the most of the new interface, Oracle eliminated the PCIe-to-SAS controller that would usually reside on the mainboard and replaced the SAS 3-to-Flash controller inside the SSD with its PCIe-to-Flash counterpart. As a result, the X5-4 gets a major boost in internal bandwidth – from 12 GB/s up to 32 Gb/s.

For more information, please see Oracle's product page and the data sheet (PDF). A condensed roundup is in the FAQs.


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