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Intel’s Nehalem EX Changes the Game for Low Latency

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Intel calls its chip release strategy “Tick Tock” which means better, faster, cheaper chips every year. A year ago, the groundbreaking Nehalem chip was introduced, and this past week saw the introduction of a high-end version of that, Nehalem EX. Featuring more cores, better memory I/O and larger memory addressability, the Xeon 7500 as it’s officially called is going to change the game of low latency trading.

At least, NYSE Technologies CEO Stanley Young thinks so. He was in San Francisco for the Intel launch event on Tuesday and spoke of how the new chips are going to allow the trading technology vendor (and the exchange that owns it) to “collapse a number of applications onto a single server and so take out network latency.” And that’s the game changing bit, because by cutting out the network, inter-process communications can be reduced from microseconds to nanoseconds.

Nehalem EX features up to eight cores per processor, which means 32 cores with two processing threads each on a four-socket machine – each thread capable of running an application logic. And while four-socket servers are probably going to become quite common, the chips support up to eight sockets natively, while vendors like SGI are adding technology that allows scaling up to 256 sockets in one server. Practically a ‘data centre inside” scenario.

As well as more cores, Nehalem EX also provides for more memory to be leveraged – up to two terabytes on an eight socket server, and boosts the I/O capacity to allow all of the cores to access that memory efficiently. Thus, running a number of applications – for instance, a FIX gateway, a matching engine, a market data distributor – on one server becomes very possible, with all of them communicating across very fast memory instead of the much slower network.

As well as NYSE Technologies, other financial application vendors – including Algorithmics, Cinnober, Kx Systems, Orc Software and Thomson Reuters – have given the new chip high marks for the performance improvements it yields and the possibilities it opens up.

Simon Garland, head of strategy at Kx systems, says: “Intel’s new Xeon 7500 is an enterprise-level chip, which opens up a host of new possibilities. It offers significant advantages for multi-threaded applications. In a world where data volumes are growing steadily, as are regulatory demands and the need for faster processing and risk management, a powerful processor capable of handling massive quantities of data at speed is essential.”

p.s. Since as an Austinite I get to hang with those who work for Intel-rival AMD, it’s only right that I note the announcement of AMD’s “Magny-Cours” chips, which include a 12-core variant. But while AMD can count on a strong server partner roster, its focus on vertical industries – financial services included – is pretty diluted. It’s Intel’s game to lose.

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