If you are in the process of evaluating and selecting the components for a new database server to run an OLTP workload on SQL Server 2014 Enterprise Edition, you have several initial choices that you have to make as a part of the decision process. First you have to decide whether you want to go with an AMD-based server or an Intel-based server. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend that you use an AMD processor for SQL Server 2012/2014 OLTP workloads, due to the combination of low single-threaded performance and high SQL Server licensing costs (even with the 25% discount from the SQL Server 2012 Core Factor Table).

Next, you need to decide on the server socket count, which means choosing a single-socket, dual-socket, quad-socket, or eight-socket server (at least in the commodity server market). After you choose the socket count, you need to decide exactly which of the available processors you want to use in that model server. Looking at the choices for several current model servers from the major system vendors, you will discover that you will have to pick from around 15-20 different specific processors. All of this can be a little overwhelming to consider, but I urge you to do some research, and to choose carefully. Letting someone else pick your processors, who may not be familiar with SQL Server 2012/2014 licensing and the demands of different database workload types, could be a lasting, costly mistake.

With the core-based licensing in SQL Server 2012/2014 Enterprise Edition, you need to pay closer attention to your physical core counts, and think about whether you are more concerned with extra scalability (from having more physical cores), or whether you want the absolute best OLTP query performance (from having a processor with fewer cores but a higher base clock speed from the same processor generation). Unlike in the good old days of SQL Server 2008 R2 and older, having more physical cores will cost you more for your SQL Server 2012/2014 Enterprise Edition licensing costs. You really need to think about what you are trying to accomplish with your database hardware. For example, if you can partition your workload between multiple servers, then you could see much better OLTP performance from using two dual-socket servers instead of one quad-socket server.

So, here are the Intel processors that I recommend in mid-April 2014 for OLTP workloads, with their high-level specifications and some commentary.

One-Socket Server (High Capacity)

Intel Xeon E5-2470 v2 (22nm Ivy Bridge-EN)

  • 2.4 GHz, 25MB L3 cache, 8 GT/s Intel QPI 1.1
  • 10 cores, Turbo Boost 2.0 (3.2 GHz), hyper-threading
  • Three memory channels, six memory slots per processor, 96GB RAM with 16GB DIMMs

One-Socket Server (High Performance)

Intel Xeon E3-1280 v3 (22nm Haswell)

  • 3.6 GHz, 8MB L3 cache, 5 GT/s Intel QPI 1.1
  • 4 cores, Turbo Boost 2.0 (4.0 GHz), hyper-threading
  • Two memory channels, four memory slots per processor, 32GB RAM with 8GB DIMMs

At least one Tier One vendor (Dell) is offering a single-socket server with the new Ivy Bridge-EN processor family. This is the entry level, two-socket capable Ivy Bridge processor that has lower clock speeds and less memory bandwidth than the Ivy Bridge-EP processor family, so it is NOT a good choice for a two-socket server. Despite this, it does give you the ability to have ten physical cores and 96GB of RAM in a single-socket server. You would see much better single-threaded OLTP performance from a new 3rd generation E3-1280 v3 Haswell processor, but you would be limited to four physical cores and 32GB of RAM. Again, if you can partition your workload, two single-socket Xeon E3-1280 v3 based servers would give you much better OLTP performance than one Xeon E5-2470 v2 based server with a lower SQL Server 2012/2014 Enterprise Edition licensing cost.

Two-Socket Server (High Capacity)

Intel Xeon E5-2697 v2 (22nm Ivy Bridge-EP)

  • 2.7 GHz, 30MB L3 cache, 8 GT/s Intel QPI 1.1
  • 12 cores, Turbo Boost 2.0 (3.5 GHz), hyper-threading
  • Four memory channels, twelve memory slots per processor, 384GB RAM with 16GB DIMMs

Two-Socket Server (High Performance)

Intel Xeon E5-2643 v2 (22nm Ivy Bridge-EP)

  • 3.5 GHz, 25MB L3 cache, 8 GT/s Intel QPI 1.1
  • 6 cores, Turbo Boost 2.0 (3.8 GHz), hyper-threading
  • Four memory channels, twelve memory slots per processor, 384GB RAM with 16GB DIMMs

Choosing the top of the line, 12-core Xeon E5-2697 v2 would cost twice as much for the SQL Server license costs as the 6 core Xeon E5-2643 v2. Once again, if you can partition your workload, two dual-socket Xeon E5-2643 v2 based servers would give you better overall OLTP performance than one Xeon E5-2697 v2 based server for the same SQL Server 2012/2014 Enterprise Edition licensing cost. You would have more total memory between the two servers, and more potential I/O capacity, at the cost of buying two servers instead of one server.  In some situations, this strategy might not make sense, especially with the added management and maintenance overhead of two servers instead of one.

Four-Socket Server (High Capacity)

Intel Xeon E7-4890 v2 (22nm Ivy Bridge-EX)

  • 2.8 GHz, 37.5MB L3 cache, 8 GT/s Intel QPI 1.1
  • 15 cores, Turbo Boost 2.0 (3.4 GHz), hyper-threading
  • Four memory channels, twenty-four memory slots per processor, 1536GB RAM with 16GB DIMMs

Four-Socket Server (High Performance)

Intel Xeon E7-8893 v2 (22nm Ivy Bridge-EX)

  • 3.4 GHz, 37.5MB L3 cache, 8 GT/s Intel QPI 1.1
  • 6 cores, Turbo Boost 2.0 (3.7 GHz), hyper-threading
  • Four memory channels, twenty-four memory slots per processor, 1536GB RAM with 16GB DIMMs

The brand new Xeon E7-8893 v2 will give you significantly better single-threaded OLTP query performance in a four-socket server than the E7-4890 v2, at the cost of less total capacity because of the lower physical core count. The E7-8893 v2 is a “frequency-optimized” model that is actually meant for eight-socket servers, but is available in several new four-socket server models from the major server vendors.

It would save you enough on SQL Server 2012/2014 Enterprise Edition license costs (about $250K) to buy the server itself and still have lots of money left over. I even think it is a better choice in many situations than a two-socket server with the 12-core, Intel Xeon E5-2697 v2, since you will have much higher single-threaded performance and much higher memory capacity. The downside is a higher hardware cost, since you will be buying four, quite expensive processors.

Eight-Socket Server (High Capacity)

Intel Xeon E7-8890 v2 (22nm Ivy Bridge-EX)

  • 2.8 GHz, 37.5MB L3 cache, 8 GT/s Intel QPI 1.1
  • 15 cores, Turbo Boost 2.0 (3.4 GHz), hyper-threading
  • Four memory channels, twenty-four memory slots per processor, 3072GB RAM with 16GB DIMMs (eight sockets)

Eight-Socket Server (High Performance)

Intel Xeon E7-8891 v2 (22nm Ivy Bridge-EX)

  • 3.2 GHz, 37.5MB L3 cache, 8 GT/s Intel QPI 1.1
  • 10 cores, Turbo Boost 2.0 (3.7 GHz), hyper-threading
  • Four memory channels, twenty-four memory slots per processor, 3072GB RAM with 16GB DIMMs (eight sockets)

You can choose a lower core count, frequency-optimized model, that has a higher clock speed for better single-threaded performance. The lower core count will also save you a LOT of money on SQL Server 2012/2014 licensing costs, although you will give up that extra load capacity with few total processor cores available.

I always like to hear what you think about my posts, so be sure to let me know!