AMD readies security, virtualization features for 2006

Quoting from ARNnet:

Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) plans to build security and virtualisation features into its server processors by 2006, the company said Friday during its annual analyst event.

Two initiatives, called Pacifica and Presidio, are under way at the chip maker, said Fred Weber, AMD’s chief technical officer. Pacifica is a virtualisation technology, while Presidio involves security features, an AMD spokeswoman said.

Weber did not provide any details about either technology during his presentation, except that both are expected in 2006.

Virtualisation technology has been used on mainframes and high-end servers for years, but IT departments are starting to use the technology on low-end servers as well, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst with Insight 64.

IT managers use virtualisation software from companies such as VMware to create virtual operating environments on servers where computing resources can be allocated to various tasks based on changing workloads. The idea is to have multiple applications running different operating systems operating on a single server technology, such as AMD or Intel’s processors, rather than having to run those applications and operating systems on separate servers, Brookwood said.

However, this is a demanding task for software, Brookwood said. Companies like IBM and Sun Microsystems have built specific hardware technologies into their Power 5 and UltraSparc chips that can offload some of the virtualisation tasks onto the hardware, he said.

“In order to virtualize technologies within a processor, a little bit of hardware goes a long way,” Brookwood said. Users still need virtualisation software, but that software will run much faster with hardware support, he said.

Neither Intel nor AMD has built such technology into their processors for low-end servers, but both are now talking about having that capability available around 2006. Intel has discussed its Vanderpool virtualisation technology at recent conferences, but like AMD, has not provided specific details about the technology.

Security is a primary concern of many server users and is being addressed by both hardware and software vendors. AMD is working with several partners on the Presidio project, which will bring hardware-based security features to server chips in 2006, the AMD spokeswoman said. Some of those features will also be incorporated into PC chips, she said.

Intel also has plans for chips with hardware-based security features around 2006.

AMD’s Pacifica and Presidio technologies will likely be very similar to Intel’s Vanderpool and LaGrande features, Brookwood said. Both companies have to make chips that work with Microsoft’s operating systems, and Microsoft has no interest in developing different versions of that software for each company’s chips, he said.