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Azure Stack Certified for Intel's New Xeon Scalable CPUs

Microsoft has given Azure Stack the green light to run on systems powered by Intel's next-generation Xeon Scalable Processors, code-named "Purley." By validating Azure Stack for Intel's new Purley CPUs, enterprises and service providers can run Microsoft's cloud operating system at much greater scale and expansion capability than the current Xeon CPUs, code-named Intel Xeon E5 v4 family ("Broadwell").

The first crop of Azure Stack appliances, which include those that customers have used over the past year with the technical previews, are based on the older Broadwell platform. Some customers may prefer them for various reasons, notably since gear with the latest processors cost more. Organizations may be fine with older processors, especially for conducting pilots. But for those looking to deploy Azure Stack, the newer generation might be the way to go.

Azure Stack appliances equipped with the new Purley processors offer improved IO, support up to 48 cores per CPU (compared with 28) and provide 50 percent better memory bandwidth (up to 1.5TB), according to a blog post by Vijay Tewari, Microsoft's principle group program manager for Azure Stack.

Intel and Microsoft have worked to tune Azure Stack with the new CPUs for over six months, according to Lisa Davis, Intel's VP of datacenter, enterprise and government and general manager of IT. In addition to the improved memory bandwidth and increased number of cores, the new processors will offer more than 16 percent greater performance and 14 percent higher virtual machine capacity, compared with the current processors, Davis said in a blog post.

The validation of the new CPUs comes three weeks after Microsoft announced the official availability of Azure Stack from Dell EMC, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Lenovo, enabling customers and service providers to replicate the Azure cloud in their respective datacenters or hosting facilities. Cisco, Huawei and Wortmann/Terra are also readying Azure Stack appliances for imminent release. 

The first units available are based on the older Broadwell processor. Tewari noted some of the vendors will offer them for the next year. "For customers who want early as possible adoption, Broadwell is a good fit because that's what's going to be off the truck first," Aaron Spurlock, senior product manager at HPE, said during a meeting at the company's booth at Ignite. "For customers who want the longest possible lifecycle on a single platform, [Purley] might be a better fit. But in terms of the overall user experience it's going to be greater [on the new CPUs] 90 percent the time."

Paul Galjan, Dell EMC's senior director of product management for hybrid cloud solutions, said any organization that wants the flexibility to scale in the future will find the newer processors based on the company's new PowerEdge 14 hyper-converged server architecture a better long-term bet. Systems based on the PowerEdge 14 will offer a 153 percent improvement in capacity, Galjan said in an interview this week.

"It is purely remarkable the amount of density we have been able to achieve with the 14g offering," Galjan said. One of the key limitations of systems based on the Broadwell platform is that they'll lack the ability to expand nodes on a cluster, a capability Microsoft will address in 2018. But it'll require the new Intel CPUs. Galjan said most customers have held off on ordering systems based on Azure Stack, awaiting the new processors from Intel for that reason.

"That's one of the reasons we are being so aggressive about it," he said. "Azure Stack is a future looking cloud platform and customers are looking for a future looking hyper-converged platform." Galjan compared in a blog post the differences between Azure Stack running on its PowerEdge 13 and the new PowerEdge 14 systems.

Lenovo this week also officially announced support for the new Xeon Scalable Processor with its ThinkAgile SX for Azure Stack appliance and is the first to support the Intel Select program early next year, which includes additional testing designed to ensure verified, workload-optimized and tuned systems.

Select Solutions, a program announced by Intel earlier this year, is a system evaluation and testing process designed to simplify system configuration selection for customers, according to Intel's Davis. It targets high-performance applications that use Azure Stack with an all-flash storage architecture.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/20/2017 at 1:55 PM


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