Chipping Away At Virtualization - InformationWeek

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Hardware & Infrastructure
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2/9/2006
04:35 PM
Darrell Dunn
Darrell Dunn
Features
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Chipping Away At Virtualization

AMD moves ahead, releasing I/O spec

Intel and Advanced Micro Devices are moving their rivalry to a new front: microprocessor-assisted virtualization. While software-based virtualization is proving popular in some business data centers, the virtualization movement is expected continue this year and next as chipmakers include technologies in their processors to make the creation of virtual computers easier. AMD got an edge on Intel last week by making a technical specification for input/output virtualization available in an attempt to establish an industry standard.

Intel has had Virtualization Technology in its Xeon MP processors since November, while AMD plans to add its version of the technology, previously named Pacifica, to its processors later this year. By early next year, it's expected that nearly all x86 processors for both PCs and servers will have embedded virtualization capabilities.

Built-in virtualization technology will help address performance bottlenecks and security issues that can occur when using virtualization software, says Ben Williams, AMD's VP of marketing. The AMD spec will be available through royalty-free licenses.

"This is a big step forward," says Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with Insight 64. "And if you're going to build in the capability for this I/O virtualization into devices like graphics cards, you're not going to want to do it twice. So if AMD can get the industry to close in around its standard, it could create a problem for Intel."

Fellow Travelers

Intel has been working with "fellow travelers" on an I/O virtualization spec since last fall, says Lorie Wigle, director of marketing for the the company's server platforms group, but it has no schedule for publication. It's expected that processor-assisted virtualization will be a topic at the Intel Developer Forum next month in San Francisco.

"We think the basic hardware-assisted virtualization on the processor is the fundamental piece that needs to be in place," Wigle says. "We agree that I/O virtualization is a natural follow-on, but we think we can make a lot of headway in improving virtualization with this first step."

The combination of virtualization and multicore processors is a key enabler allowing IT departments to maximize server investments, Brookwood says. "Multicore processors are giving us the ability to build more powerful servers and virtualization the ability to move workloads onto them in a nondisruptive manner," he says.

Making virtualized workloads simple will allow IT departments to move beyond what are mostly test environments today to full-scale deployments, says Paul Miller, VP of marketing for industry servers and blade systems for Hewlett-Packard. "In three to five years, as it becomes built into the core architecture," he says, "virtualization will be as common as the operating system itself."

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