I used to write bi-weekly blog posts in a series called Glenn’s Tech Insights. Since I’m not doing that any longer, I will continue to write about HW news on a regular basis here.
AMD’s Best Days Are Behind It?
Daniel Newman from Futurum Research recently wrote an article in MarketWatch entitled “Opinion: Why AMD’s best days are behind it“. His basic argument is that AMD had a narrow window in 2019 to completely catch and surpass Intel. Since they didn’t do that, now it is too late. According to Newman, Intel has “fixed” most of the issues that have plagued them. This means Intel will come roaring back in 2020.
As you may be able to guess, I absolutely disagree with his reasoning and conclusions. Mercury Research tracks CPU market share by segment as discussed here. According to their figures, in the Server segment, AMD has gone from 0.8% in Q4 2017 to 4.5% in Q4 2019. That may not sound that impressive, but it actually is in the server market. It takes more time to validate server designs, and there is more institutional inertia with servers.
AMD has made even more gains during that time frame in the desktop and mobile market segments. I think AMD will make more advances with the upcoming Zen 2 mobile parts, and the Zen 3 desktop parts. Intel continues to have schedule delays, security issues, and other short-term issues.
Intel still has ten times the market cap of AMD, with the overwhelming resources that go along with that fact. Intel is not going anywhere, and they will eventually have more competitive products. In the meantime, Intel still has some dark days ahead.
Intel Cascade Lake-SP Refresh
As I previously wrote, Intel is rumored to be releasing eighteen new Cascade Lake-SP Xeon server processors later this quarter. Generally speaking, these “refreshed” SKUs will have slightly higher base clock speeds and higher core counts in some cases.
From a SQL Server perspective, I see three SKUs that are particularly interesting:
- Xeon Gold 6258R as a replacement for the Xeon Platinum 8280
- The 6258R will be significantly less expensive, with the same specifications (but no eight-socket support)
- Xeon Gold 6248R as a replacement for the Xeon Platinum 8268
- The 6248R has a 3.0 GHz base clock vs. a 2.9 GHz base clock, and a much lower cost
- Xeon Gold 6246R as a replacement for the Xeon Gold 6246
- The 6246R has a 3.4 GHz base clock vs. a 3.3 GHz base clock
By replacement, I don’t mean you would really replace an existing Xeon Gold 6246 with a Xeon Gold 6246R. I mean that you would choose the “R” SKU for a new server. Actually, if you are looking at a new server, I would seriously look at an AMD-based server. This is for two reasons. First, depending on your workload, the AMD server might be significantly better than an Intel server. Second, try getting a quote for an AMD-based server from a different server vendor. Then, use that quote that to scare the sales rep from your existing server vendor. This may net you a very large price reduction!
If these rumors are true, you may not have to negotiate much with your OEM to get a huge discount. According to Charlie Demerjian in his post “Intel officially craters Xeon pricing“, Cascade Lake-R may have large reductions in the MSRP for those processors. Competition in this space is great for SQL Server data professionals!
VMware Licensing Changes
On February 3, 2020, VMware announced a pretty significant change for how they will license some of their products. Essentially, they are limiting the physical core count per licensed CPU socket to 32 cores. If you have a processor with more than 32 cores, you will have to buy two CPU licenses. This change will go into effect on April 2, 2020.
Here is how VMware explains the change:
While we will still be using a per-CPU approach, now, for any software offering that we license on a per-CPU basis, we will require one license for up to 32 physical cores. If a CPU has more than 32 cores, additional CPU licenses will be required.Update to VMware’s per-CPU Pricing Model
Obviously, this will only affect you if you have a processor with more than 32 physical cores. According to VMware, the majority of their customers use processors with fewer than 32 cores, so this won’t affect the majority them. Intel doesn’t currently have any processors with more than 28 cores, so this won’t affect them. I don’t count the Intel Xeon Platinum 9200 series as a real product.
AMD has EPYC 7002 series processor SKUs with 48 cores and with 64 cores. These include the EPYC 7742, 7702, 7702P, 7642, and 7552. I would probably avoid the 48 core SKUs after this change. Choosing a 32 core or 64 core SKU will make more sense in most situations.
Does This Really Hurt AMD?
One of AMD’s competitive advantages with the EPYC 7002 series was that you can replace a two-socket Intel server with a one-socket AMD server. If you did that, you could still have more CPU cores, more memory, and more PCIe bandwith. You would also save money on software that was licensed per socket. This VMware licensing change eliminates that advantage for 48 and 64 core AMD EPYC 7002 series SKUs.
This change might seem (on the surface) to be a narrow anti-AMD move by VMware. I actually think it is more nuanced than that. If you can consolidate to a one-socket 64-core AMD server vs. multiple two-socket, lower core count Intel servers, you will still be ahead with AMD. Since Intel doesn’t have a 32 core processor, you can also get the most cores from each CPU license with a 32 core AMD processor. Patrick Kennedy has a great analysis of this change here. VMware has some examples of how licensing would work, before and after the change.
There are so many interesting and relevant HW news items this week, that I have only scratched the surface on. If you find this sort of content interesting, please let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading!