Server Hardware Architecture

If you would like to read the other parts in this article series please go to:

In this article, you will learn about CPU sockets, processor cores, CPU architecture, and about how adding additional CPU cores to a server can boost the server’s processing power.

Recently in this article series, I have spent a considerable amount of time talking about server storage hardware. Now, I want to turn my attention to CPU architecture.

On the surface, server CPU architecture really isn’t all that different from what you might encounter in PCs. Most of the PCs that have been manufactured in the last few years feature multicore processors. A multicore processor is a CPU with two or more separate processors (or to be more technically precise, two or more processing cores) integrated onto a single chip.

Although it is extremely common for PCs to include multicore processors, PCs are almost always limited to using a single physical CPU. Servers on the other hand, are often designed to accommodate at least two physical CPUs, and sometimes more. The number of physical CPUs that a server can accommodate is often referred to as the number of sockets.

The overwhelming popularity of server virtualization has forced administrators to look closely at the total number of cores available on servers that are being used as virtualization hosts. Even though CPU cores are rarely assigned to virtual machines in a one-to-one ratio, the number of available cores in a server has a direct impact on the number of virtual machines that the server can host. Essentially, the more CPU cores a server has, the more virtual machines it could potentially host. I say potentially because there are many factors other than CPU cores that limit the number of virtual machines that a host server can accommodate. The most common limiting factor for example, is that of physical memory.

You can determine the total number of CPU cores that exist within the system by multiplying the number of cores per processor by the number of processors in the system. You will notice that I did not say to multiply the total number of cores per processor by the total number of sockets in the system. The reason for this is that often times sockets are empty. Many server manufacturers design their system boards with extra sockets as a way of expanding a server’s capabilities, but in the interest of keeping the price affordable they may not always included a CPU within each socket.

This brings up another interesting point. Server system boards can usually accommodate a variety of your choices. For example, I have seen system boards that support the use of four or five different processors. The processors that are supported by the system board often vary in terms of the number of cores available and in the overall clock speed.

Generally speaking, processors with higher clock speeds offer higher performance. Of course this assumes that the CPU architecture remains the same. You can’t judge a CPU’s performance based solely on its clock speed. Some CPU designs are more efficient than others. As such there are cases in which a CPU with a lower clock speed may outperform a CPU with a higher clock speed. The overall performance boils down to the number of instructions that the CPU is able to process per second. Even though the clock speed does limit the total number of instructions that the CPU can process each second, there are other factors that also play into this. Most modern CPUs are able to execute multiple instructions within each clock cycle.

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