A $7,000 Server Comparison
Because the tests in this article are all based on open-source software, no compatibility issues were observed. Of course, low-level software that accesses hardware directly has to be customized for the different systems, but all distributions were feature-complete and included all common programs for both desktop and server use.
Once you look at closed-source software, the picture unfortunately changes. The Itanium processor is fairly well supported, while most software that supports the Power platform comes directly from IBM. Worse off is the T1000. Not even the Java JDK is available from Sun.
Although the T1000 consistently came in last, it looked better as the more threads were working concurrently. However, because most Linux developers are using single processor or dual-core systems, it is hard to find open-source applications that are capable of starting 32 threads at once.
The third place goes to the Itanium-based rx2660. The Itanium processor performed well on single-threaded applications, but in the end, it was beat consistently by the POWER5-based 510Q. With an improved version of GCC, Intel and HP surely could change this picture, but for now, there is little chance that the distributions will adopt a proprietary compiler to gain performance.
Eight execution threads earned the IBM System p5 510Q the second place in this comparison. The 510Q bested the T1000 and also held a consistent lead over the rx2660 once all eight threads were utilized. In addition, the possibilities of partitioning the system without the use of Xen or VMware makes this system the best choice among the proprietary boxes.
The biggest surprise, however, was the DL140G3. Originally, it was planned only as a point of reference, but Intel has designed a very impressive solution with the latest quad-core Xeons. For years, Intel or AMD systems running Windows or Linux have competed well against smaller UNIX systems, but never before has an x86-based system enjoyed a performance lead like this. In addition, HP has done an excellent job integrating management capabilities into the server.
In one sentence—there is little to no reason to go with the low-end proprietary server. Performance is worse, and at the low end, reliability features are comparable. Does that mean these chips are dead? Not by a long shot. Intel or AMD systems usually don't go beyond 16 cores, while the UNIX vendors offer systems with up to 144 cores. However, most of these large systems offer no or limited Linux support. In addition to the high CPU count, the virtualization capabilities of the POWER5 systems are impressive—low overhead at no additional cost.
Peter Arremann currently works at Verizon on system administration, automation of software development processes and the company's open-source policy. He has been using Linux for more than a decade and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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