Red Hat and Intel: Industry Leaders Redefine Datacenter Price-Performance

March 30, 2009

by Tim Burke, Senior Director, Red Hat Enterprise Linux Engineering

It’s certainly not news to anyone that Red Hat and Intel have been closely working hand-in-hand for many years to offer high-performance, low-cost alternatives to proprietary IT solutions. Red Hat Enterprise Linux combined with Intel processors and system components have essentially redefined the meaning of “commodity computing.”

The most recent result of this partnership centers around today’s announcement of the availability of Intel’s latest Xeon (Nehalem) processor. This processor provides significant new capabilities that, as a result of our collaboration during its development, are fully supported by Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.3, which was released in January. We believe that the combination surpasses the capabilities of proprietary high-end systems, while offering true affordability.

There are two primary areas where Intel’s new Xeon processor, combined with Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.3, offers customers the opportunity to meet their computing needs while reducing costs:

  • Scalability/Performance. Virtualization enhancements provide greater scalability and performance, and allow for the virtualization of a wide range of workloads, even those that are I/O intensive.
  • Energy efficiency. Support for Greener IT features result in lower power consumption and cooling requirements.

In short, this is really all about doing more at a lower price-point. Let’s dig into a few technical details around scalability/performance and power efficiency enhancements.

Until recently, system performance was primarily driven by new processors operating at increasingly high frequencies - that is the good news. The bad news was a seemingly insatiable appetite for power and cooling - all driving up datacenter costs. A common solution to this problem has been to use virtualization to consolidate workloads. So, Red Hat and Intel worked closely together to deliver enterprise-caliber virtualization in Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5, which customers have been successfully deploying since the product was released in early 2007.

Enhancements provided by the new Intel Xeon processor take both virtualization and power efficiency to a new level. The virtualization capabilities provided in Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.3 are highly optimized to utilize the latest features of Intel Virtualization hardware, including “extended page table” memory access optimization. Extended page table support enables the hypervisor to directly access memory maps of virtual guest instances, thereby bypassing previously necessary kernel software codepaths – the net result is significant speedup in data access for I/O intensive workloads. Scalability enhancements provide support for up to 126 processors and 1TB of memory in virtualized deployments – significantly larger than competing products.

Additionally, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.3 enhancements to utilize Intel’s QuickPath memory technology can more than double the performance of memory intensive workloads – both in non-virtualized and virtualized deployments. This increased performance and scalability of virtualized infrastructure opens the door for deployments of entirely new categories of workloads. For example, it was previously uncommon to virtualize I/O intensive workloads such as database and network file serving. Today, Red Hat’s performance analysis of industry-standard database benchmarks running on the new Intel Xeon processor with Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.3′s optimized virtualization show that I/O intensive workloads can achieve 85 percent of the performance of non-virtualized deployments. As a result, the combination of the new Red Hat Enterprise Linux release and Intel Xeon processor yields substantial performance benefits over the prior generation, while providing the efficiency and flexibility of virtualization for consolidation and workload migration.

Of equal importance are the power management enhancements, which can be summarized as dynamically adaptable. There’s a lot more to it than the typical control of basic processor speed. Rather, the new Intel Xeon processor is able to dynamically adapt not only processor speed, but also interconnect speeds to both memory and I/O devices, as well as adapting the number of active cores and threads on each processor. Of course, the hardware is only half of the power efficiency story because without the corresponding operating system optimizations, from scheduling to virtualization, the full benefits could not be realized.

The close Red Hat / Intel co-development relationship makes Red Hat Enterprise Linux a highly optimized platform from both a virtualization and power management perspective. And, to make this product launch as successful as possible, we invited some of our most demanding customers to participate in early product testing. Through a joint beta program we were able to optimize the implementation of both hardware and software. Customer interest for the combination of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.3 and the new Intel Xeon processor was exceptionally strong, making it the one of our most highly anticipated recent product launches.

These are just a few highlights of a new wave of commoditization of formerly exotic features. Offering compelling performance, scalability and power efficiency, the combination of the new Intel Xeon processor and Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.3 enable a best-in-class computing solution with impressive affordability.

To learn more about the combination of Red Hat Enterprise Linux and the new Intel Xeon processor, check out the 5.3 announcement press release and our 5.3 blog and video.

Recent enhancements by Red Hat to its Enterprise Linux subscription services mean that systems can be supported for up to 10 years, with no requirement to upgrade. Read more in our blog on Red Hat’s Extended Update Support offering.

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