I don’t pretend to be a hardware expert who keeps up with the absolutely latest news, but I know Dell has been shipping 2-socket quad-core servers powered by Intel processors for a few months now. It’s not exactly brand-new news, but it’s still pretty interesting. I have two young children, and I can imagine them, 30 or 40 years in the future, chatting with their kids about database capacity planning. The conversation might go something like this:

“Oh yeah? Well when I was your age, we didn’t have these new-fangled, infinity-core, bio-engineered processors. We had to tune databases the old-fashioned way. It was hard work! And we had to walk back and forth to work, uphill both ways, in the snow...” (Some things parents say will never change.)

Ok, I’m not exactly sure those infinity-core servers will ever make the skills of a trained tuning professional obsolete, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be retired before it happens, so I’m not too worried. But it sure is interesting to see the leaps and bounds in processing power that have been happening in the recent year. Gotta love Moore.

According to Dell, when equipped with Intel quad-core technology, the new systems "rival the performance of dual-core, four-socket systems" and have up to 63 percent greater overall performance and up to 40 percent better performance "per watt."

Needless to say, AMD doesn’t want to be left behind. AMD originally beat Intel to the punch, shipping the world’s first dual-core chips. Intel was first out of the gate with a quad-core model, but some hardware purists would argue that the offering isn’t a “true” quad-core solution because the Intel solution is effectively two of the company’s dual-core chips on a single piece of silicon in a single socket. AMD plans to release a quad-core processor early this year, and some industry experts are predicting that AMD’s quad-core offering could be noticeably faster than Intel’s current quad core processor.

Of course, Intel and AMD will presumably engage in a never-ending game of performance leapfrog, so the real point isn’t who is the fastest. The more interesting point is that our “commodity servers” are getting faster and faster and faster. Also, although AMD has made tremendous inroads into the lower-end consumer and laptop market, Intel still dominates the server market. Many pundits predict that AMD’s quad-core processor will be attractive for midsized to small-enterprise accounts and will place further price pressure on both Intel and AMD. Quad-core (and beyond) processor platforms from both Intel and AMD will continue to allow the creation of database-server platforms that continuously give us much more for our money than older models, regardless of which chip vendor is actually getting our cash.

I certainly hope, and expect, that there will be a market for tuning professionals for all time, but life is certainly a bit easier with the increased bang for the buck that these servers will provide. At least until our users start asking for applications that do more things with more data. Pesky users: Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em.