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Intel x86 Architecture: Comprehensive Performance, Testing, Validation, and Industry Standards Cloud Benefits
by Ron Westfall and Daniel Newman | October 24, 2022

The News: We believe it’s important that organizations better understand the underlying microprocessor architecture that provides the foundation for the global cloud ecosystem. In this regard, Intel has a long history of advancing microarchitecture capabilities, including a track record of more than 40 years of proven refinement and a massive installed base of applications tuned for the x86 microarchitecture ecosystem. Intel has driven generations of x86 microarchitecture optimization through input and lessons learned from its installed base, including acting on the prioritization customers assign to comprehensive performance, testing, validation, and industry standards factors. Read the Intel Press Release here.

Intel x86 Architecture: Comprehensive Performance, Testing, Validation, and Industry Standards Cloud Benefits

Analyst Take: While the press release is from 2021, the information presented is as relevant as ever in today’s business world. Intel’s x86 architecture was purpose designed to enable organizations to swiftly adapt to changing business requirements, including the ability to maximize microprocessor architecture outcomes based on major evaluation factors such as overall performance, testing, and validation assurances, and industry standards leadership. Intel x86 assures predictable performance by providing customers choice of cloud infrastructure based on Quality of Service and Service Levels, eliminating highly variable results. Currently, our exploration of other options in the marketplace, such as Arm, lack these comprehensive capabilities.

Intel developed the x86 Performance-core as the highest performing CPU core Intel has ever delivered, while also providing a step function in CPU architecture performance that can potentially drive the next several years of compute. It was designed as a smarter, deeper, and more wide-ranging architecture to expose more parallelism, increase execution parallelism, reduce latency, and boost general-purpose performance. Additionally, X86 can support massive data and massive code footprint applications, which we find a compelling part of the overall value proposition.

Aimed at data center processors and machine learning advances, Performance-core brings dedicated hardware, including Intel’s Advanced Matrix Extensions (AMX), to perform matrix multiplication operations for an order of magnitude performance lift. This represents a nearly eightfold increase in artificial intelligence performance, and is architected for software ease of use, leveraging the x86 programming model.

We believe a highly scalable x86 microarchitecture must address compute requirements across the full spectrum of user needs, from low-power mobile applications to many-core microservices. Compared with Skylake, Intel’s most prolific CPU microarchitecture, the Efficient-core delivers 40% more single-threaded performance at the same power, or the same performance while consuming less than 40% of the power (for workloads and configurations, visit www.intel.com/ArchDay21claims). For throughput performance, four Efficient-cores deliver 80% more performance while still consuming less power than two Skylake cores running four threads or the same throughput performance, while consuming 80% less power (for workloads and configurations visit www.intel.com/ArchDay21claims).

In tandem, Intel built an improved scheduling technology called Intel Thread Director for performance-cores and efficient-cores to work harmoniously with the operating system. Integrated directly into the hardware, Thread Director can provide low-level telemetry on the core’s state and the thread’s instruction mix, empowering the operating system to place the right thread on the right core at the right time. From our view, Thread Director is dynamic and adaptive – adjusting scheduling decisions to real-time compute needs – moving away from a simplistic, static rules-based approach.

In the multi-cloud era, organizations must ensure the microprocessor architecture powering their cloud implementations commands the hyper-threading, single-thread performance, toolchain, API creation capabilities, validation, as well as the fullest backing and influence of industry standards, since the slightest shortfall can result in costly and complex fixes and upgrades. At a minimum, we believe cloud and DC environments built on microprocessor architectures require demonstrable ecosystem influence across the following top-priority performance and development areas:

  • The Hyper-Thread Edge: Intel Xeon processors support Intel Hyper-threading for two threads per core. By comparison, Arm servers only support one thread and are single socket only. As a result, Xeon-based systems support more VMs (vCPUs) per server than the majority of the Arm ecosystem.
  • Single Thread Performance: Single thread performance is essential for a myriad of DC workloads, and Intel Xeon processors have the single best threaded performance in the DC (according to published Standard Performance Evaluation Group 3/3/20 measurements and data).
  • Toolchains: Provides foundational base toolkit, consisting of compilers and acceleration libraries, which enable developers to conduct the building, testing, and optimizing of cloud applications across any microprocessor architecture, including CPU, GPU, and FPGA technologies and solutions.
  • API Agility: Furnishes a unified and streamline cross-architecture programming architecture that delivers uncompromised performance without proprietary lock-in, enabling the selection of the best architecture for the challenge at hand without needing to rewrite APIs for the next architecture and platform. Intel Xeon processors can live migrate VMs with existing Xeon servers, allowing new systems to integrate smoothly into existing infrastructure.

Intel x86 Architecture: Testing & Validation Considerations

We discern that Intel development tools make it easier to adopt and qualify microprocessor technology, helping business decision makers address the demands of their cloud and data center management requirements, including IT, container, and software development applications. IaaS and PaaS implementations often require long tails of codes and applications run by users and Intel Xeon supports a vast software ecosystem, ensuring customer codes will run and perform as needed.

Moreover, the x86 architecture supports a broad spectrum of test suites to ensure the interworking of the microprocessor architecture across the vast spectrum of cloud and data center solutions. In today’s rapidly moving business world, microprocessor suppliers must deliver instant compatibility with all essential third-party vendors in areas like memory and logic to ensure peace of mind for business decision-makers.

Intel x86 Architecture: Standards Leadership

Equally important, since standards compliance on paper is different from compatibility in the real world, the microprocessor architecture must take a proactive stance to assure widespread compliance for its solutions with real world use conditions. In contrast, we see alternative architectures that deliver only obligatory support and lack the x86’s vast influence as prone to yielding unsatisfactory outcomes despite recognizing the standard’s formal requirements. A microprocessor supplier must be able to optimize collaboration with OEM and ISV/OSV partners as well as open-source projects to provide the interoperability key to removing deployment complexities when the customer gets the server out of the box.

We also believe that the microprocessor architecture needs to proactively contribute to developing and adopting new standards that support cloud and data center business objectives, including standards that uphold global sustainability goals, best practices for corporate governance and business operation, as well as consumer product safety.

Key Takeaways: Intel x86 Architecture Comprehensive Performance, Testing, Validation, and Industry Standards Cloud Benefits

We believe the x86 architecture plays an integral role in delivering workload-accelerated solutions for the most important and widely demanded use cases. This includes ensuring system hardware runs proficiently on today’s applications, as well as future emerging workloads (e.g., 5G-IoT, AI, Analytics). The x86 architecture plays a pivotal role in streamlining the process of improving the selection of the software and hardware needed for today’s cloud and data center workloads and applications, particularly in meeting the new post-pandemic business demands related to hybrid workforce, AI/analytics, cloud, and security support. The x86 architecture empowers businesses to make the best purchasing decisions in selecting cloud and DC solutions, and specifically, decisions that improve business outcomes across their cloud, network, and IT environments.

Disclosure: Futurum Research is a research and advisory firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this article. The author does not hold any equity positions with any company mentioned in this article.

Analysis and opinions expressed herein are specific to the analyst individually and data and other information that might have been provided for validation, not those of Futurum Research as a whole.

This article is sponsored by Intel.

Other insights from Futurum Research:

Intel x86 vs. Arm: The Most Important Selection Criterion – New Futurum Research Report

Intel Vision 2022: Intel Augments its Silicon, Software, and Services Portfolio Vision

Intel Q2 2022: The Good, The Bad, and the CHIPS Act

Image Credit: NotebookCheck.net

About the Authors

Ron is an experienced research expert and analyst, with over 20 years of experience in the digital and IT transformation markets. He is a recognized authority at tracking the evolution of and identifying the key disruptive trends within the service enablement ecosystem, including software and services, infrastructure, 5G/IoT, AI/analytics, security, cloud computing, revenue management, and regulatory issues. Read Full Bio.

Daniel Newman is the Principal Analyst of Futurum Research and the CEO of Broadsuite Media Group. Living his life at the intersection of people and technology, Daniel works with the world’s largest technology brands exploring Digital Transformation and how it is influencing the enterprise. Read Full Bio