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Volume 1, Number 24 -- July 13, 2004

NEC Pushes SuSE Enterprise Server 9 Performance Up

by Timothy Prickett Morgan

Japanese server maker NEC has announced another killer benchmark test result on its "Asama" Express5800/1320Xd Itanium server running Linux. The new TPC-C online benchmark test result on the 32-way Express5800 server demonstrates not only that clock-for-clock the Itanium processor can deliver the same performance per processor as the best RISC processors, but also that with the 2.6 kernel Linux can scale as well as any Unix operating system out there.

The test that NEC ran is actually the second one that the company has run using the 64-bit version of Novell's SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 9, which is expected to start shipping in September. This is the version of SuSE's server version of Linux that has the 2.6 kernel and its much-improved support for large SMP and NUMA servers. The Express5800 server is based on four-way Itanium 2 cell boards that are lashed together using a cache-coherent NUMA architecture. The Express5800 architecture spans to a total of 32 processors, and executives inside NEC say that the company does not plan at this time to extend that scalability up to 48 or 64 processors because of the inefficiency of scaling that far. NEC is a long-time partner with Hewlett-Packard in the Unix server market, and it could license HP's mx2 "Hondo" dual Madison modules if it needs to offer more oomph and expand to a virtual 64-way machine.

Right now, NEC seems pretty pleased with what it can do with a 32-way server. On the most recent TPC-C benchmark test, an Express5800 running SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 9 was able to process 683,575 transactions per minute (TPM). That server was configured with 32 of Intel's 1.5 GHz/6 MB cache Itanium 2 processors, plus 512 GB of main memory and 41.3 TB of disk capacity. The Express5800 machine was configured as the database server behind the TPC-C test, and it ran Oracle 10g Enterprise Edition. That server cost $1.43 million, and the storage arrays cost a stunning $3.5 million. With application servers, software, and maintenance for three years included, the whole TPC-C setup cost $5.64 million; after a 37 percent discount, the whole shebang cost $4.1 million, or $5.99 per TPM.

Back in April, that same server was put through the TPC-C paces running Oracle10g Enterprise Edition on SuSE 9 and was able to handle 609,467 TPM on the test, with essentially the same costs and delivering $6.78 per TPM. Clearly, the latest NEC test results are the effect of performance tuning.

About the same time SuSE 9 becomes available for servers, Intel is expected to deliver its larger cache Itanium 2 processors, which are expected to run at 1.7 GHz, 1.8 GHz, and 1.9 GHz. With a 3 MB jump in cache size to 9 MB (a 33 percent increase) and a boost in clock speed from 1.5 GHz to 1.9 GHz (a 27 percent increase), it is likely that NEC can push the performance of a 32-way Express5800 server running Linux up to around 865,000 TPM. This is a bit more than HP was pushing with a 64-way Superdome Itanium 2 server using 1.5 GHz Itanium 2s with 512 GB of main memory. IBM could push a Power-based pSeries 690 running Oracle with the same amount of main memory and 32 of its Power4+ processors running at 1.7 GHz to 768,839 TPM. Only by doubling main memory to 1 TB and pushing clock speeds to 1.9 GHz on the Power4+ chips could IBM hit 1 million TPM. HP could only match IBM's move of hitting 1 million TPM on its 64-way machine by boosting main memory to 1 TB as well. (The TPC-C test requires lots of disk per user, but on systems with large main memories, it sure doesn't look much like the I/O subsystems are getting as stressed as they ought to.) It is reasonable to assume that if NEC pushes up main memory to 1 TB like IBM and HP and gets the 1.9 GHz Itanium 2s into the Asama machines, then it can probably hit 1 million TPM as well.

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Editor: Timothy Prickett Morgan
Managing Editor: Shannon Pastore
Contributing Editors: Dan Burger, Joe Hertvik, Kevin Vandever,
Shannon O'Donnell, Victor Rozek, Hesh Wiener, Alex Woodie
Publisher and Advertising Director: Jenny Thomas
Advertising Sales Representative: Kim Reed
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