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3/30/2009
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Intel's Nehalem Server Chips Seen Aiding Virtualization

The improvements in Xeon processors are the kind of technology organizations will need as they deploy more virtualization in their data centers and move toward cloud computing, Intel said.

Intel on Monday introduced 17 Nehalem EP-based quad-core processors, officially launching its next-generation microarchitecture that one analyst said fixes the most obvious technical weaknesses in Intel's previous server platform.

Patrick Gelsinger, senior VP and general manager of Intel's Digital Enterprise Group, told a news conference at the company's Santa Clara, Calif., headquarters that the new processors represented the biggest platform advancement for Intel in more than 10 years.

"This is as significant and as transformational as the Pentium Pro was in its day," Gelsinger said.

Intel believes Nehalem EP, officially called the Xeon 3500 and 5500 series, provides the kind of technology organizations will need as they deploy more virtualization into their data centers and move toward cloud computing, which typically refers to the running of applications in an Internet server or downloading the software from the Internet each time it is used. Google Apps is an example of business applications delivered via cloud computing.

Virtualization and cloud computing are seen by the industry as big drivers for future server demand. Cloud computing is still in its infancy, and the former is starting to take off. Analyst firm Gartner predicts virtualization, or the use of virtual machines to run multiple business applications on different operating systems in the same computer server, will be the No. 1 technology initiative this year.

With this in mind, Intel has dramatically boosted the performance of its microarchitecture by introducing an integrated memory controller on the same piece of silicon as the processor, thereby eliminating the front-side bus that analysts said was a bottleneck in Intel's previous server platform. Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices has used an IMC in its Opteron processors since 2003.

In getting rid of the FSB, Intel has eliminated its "traditional area of weakness," Nathan Brookwood, analyst for Insight 64, said. "This is the last of the low-hanging fruit."

Going forward, Intel will have to work harder at refining the technology it has to squeeze out more power and energy efficiency. "There's no reason to shut down the patent office," Brookwood said.

While Nehalem EP gives Intel a performance lead over AMD, the gain is only expected to last for six months or so. AMD is sure to catch up with its future products. "We're in a leapfrog kind of mode," Brookwood said.

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