Intel, AMD in Virtual Combat

Intel and AMD are duking it out again, this time putting the additional processor cores and capabilities they’ve built into hardware to deliver virtualization — the running of multiple operating systems and applications on processors that are virtually carved up to carry the load.

Intel said its virtualization technology (VT) was ready for testing and indicated system manufacturers are ready to enable for use the hardware-assisted virtualization capabilities in its “Paxville” Xeon processors.

At the same time, AMD is looking to make its I/O virtualization technology an industry standard, and is offering the specification for free to encourage hardware and software development and adoption. AMD claims its I/O specification will address performance bottleneck and security issues that can arise with virtualization in x86-based servers.

What will come of this fight? Users will get more performance, but processors will be pushed harder than they ever have. The long-term impact of virtualization remains largely unseen.

Next Big Thing

Both companies’ focus on virtualization highlights how the splitting of processor performance to run multiple systems and software is the next big area of technical expansion and improvement in computing, Mercury Research President Dean McCarron told TechNewsWorld.

“Pretty clearly, it’s going to be a feature set you’re going to have to provide to be competitive,” he said, adding virtualization is viewed by many as more significant than 64-bit computing.

Different Paths

While the technology from both Intel and AMD achieves the same effect — allowing what was on several servers to be run on a single server — the two companies are taking different approaches, McCarron said.

Intel is doing much of the technology work and development in-house, and while it will provide the support code needed to broaden adoption and software development, its strategy differs from what AMD did with its 64-bit technology and is now doing with its I/O virtualization.

“AMD put the spec out well before the hardware was available,” McCarron said. “That’s kind of been established as AMD’s model.”

Increase and Impact

The virtualization technology from both companies will allow users to leverage more efficiency from hardware, and will make performance-per-watt a more important factor, McCarron said.

However, processors have not yet been utilized to 100 percent of their capability, and the impact of broader virtualization on IT environments remains unclear, the analyst added.

“Virtualization opens the door for these processors to be running hard full-time. It remains to be seen how the whole system or ecosystem is impacted.”

Modular Movement

The modular nature of virtualization means that organizations will not be forced to pick either Intel or AMD’s virtualization technology, and instead will incur only minor software variations between the two, Gartner research vice president Martin Reynolds told TechNewsWorld.

While he highlighted both Intel’s Active Management technology for virtualization and AMD’s I/O as the first high-performance interface, Reynolds indicated both companies will be improving their virtualization technologies.

“We’re not done,” he said. “We’re going to see these things evolve in the next five years.”

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