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Multi-core processing infiltrates the enterprise

The days of single-core chips are limited, experts say, as more IT shops move with mixed success to multi-core.

Multi-core processing holds promise for improving performance in the enterprise. But, as some IT managers can attest, that promise isn't being kept in all cases.

A multi-core processor is an integrated circuit with two or more separate cores on the same die that is touted for its ability to increase performance and decrease power and heat issues. As single-core processors reach their limits for complexity and speed, chip vendors are moving quickly to upgrade to dual-core and multi-core processors.

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Ready for multi-core?

At TechEd, Microsoft's largest trade show, which was held in Boston last month, some IT managers said that the best of multi-core processing is yet to come.

Dennis Lorimor, a network resource administrator for ESCO Corp., has been running dual-core processors for just over a month on two servers at the industrial manufacturing company based in Portland, Ore. Lorimor went looking for dual-core servers because he wanted better performance from VMware Inc.'s ESX server, with the ultimate goal of faster server provisioning. Lorimor was not sure just how much faster the software runs now with dual core, but he said he noticed a marked difference from single-core servers.

"The performance is much better," said Lorimor. "It's like two chips in one."

Not all users have experienced the same outcome. Chad Seward wanted to check out dual-core processing mainly for what he referred to as the "cool geek factor."

Seward, a software developer for Clear Picture Corp., a human resources consulting company in Halifax, Nova Scotia, has a dual-core processor on his desktop at work and said he expected the chip would make multitasking on his computer a lot more efficient. Instead, he said, running several applications on a dual-core machine has not been that much better. "I thought it would be much faster," said Seward, "but I'm not seeing it."

Despite the mixed results, the market for multi-core processors is growing almost daily. IDC in Framingham, Mass., said in a recent report that since January, 25% of the servers sold on the market today include dual-core or multi-core processors.

There's no going back

Enterprise servers are just the beginning of the single-core phase-out, according to Brad Day, a research vice president with Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. "With servers it's happening now," he said. "You aren't seeing any new designs for single-core from Intel and AMD. As we move into 2007, you will see that same form factor for all business-oriented desktops and notebooks. Single-core will be history by 2007. There is no reason to run it."

Chip makers are banking on more reviews like Lorimor's and focusing their attention on dual-core in the enterprise. AMD released its dual-core Opteron processor last year, starting the wave of next-generation processors that will be only dual-core, said Margaret Lewis, the chip maker's software strategist. "Enterprise users are fast moving to dual- and multi-core," Lewis said. "It goes without saying they need consolidation of workloads and a fast rate of utilization on their servers."

Single-core will be history by 2007.
Brad Day,
Forrester Research Inc.,

Intel's Dual-Core Xeon processor 5100 -- code-named Woodcrest -- shipped in late June. Expected to have at least twice the performance of previous single-core Intel Xeon processors, the new dual-core Intel Xeon processor 5100 series is said to enable servers to handle more simultaneous work for better cost savings and return on investment. Intel also boasts three times the energy savings with the 5100 series over single-core.

AMD released its dual-core Opteron processor last year with plans to ship in the third quarter. AMD64 dual-core technology directly connects two processor cores on to a single die for reduced latencies between processors. This type of architecture is said to improve system efficiency and application performance for computers running several applications at the same time or for compute-intensive multi-threaded applications.

Despite what he described as disappointing results from dual-core, Seward still acknowledges that dual-core processing is the future and was even looking forward to the benefits he hoped would come with multi-core architecture. "It makes sense," he said. "As you scale out and do more multi-processing, why not put four or six cores on one chip?"

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