Intel, AMD call for innovation on virtual platforms

Quoting from eWeek:

Intel and Advanced Micro Devices are touting their respective hardware-level virtualization technologies as platforms that will help spur greater innovation around such environments.

At the Intel Developer Forum here this week, Intel Corp. has been showing demonstrations of its Intel Virtualization Technology—formerly code-named “Vanderpool”—which is due to start appearing later this year in desktop chips and 64-bit Itanium processors, and next year in its Xeon server chips and mobile processors.
For its part, AMD (Advanced Micro Devices Inc.) will release the specification for its “Pacifica” virtualization technology later this month.

The technology will start appearing in AMD 64 processors in mid-2006, said Margaret Lewis, commercial software strategist for the chip maker.

Virtualization decouples the operating system from the hardware, letting users run multiple operating systems on individual servers or pool multiple systems into a single virtualized pool, leading to greater flexibility in how IT resources are used.

It has been commonplace in mainframe and Unix systems for many years, but the way x86 processors are built has made it difficult and cumbersome to bring virtualization into that space.

Companies such as VMware Inc. and Microsoft Corp. are enabling it on a software level. With the new technologies promised in upcoming Intel and AMD processors, virtualization capabilities in the x86 and Itanium space will grow, officials at both companies said Wednesday.

Virtualization is among a number of technologies that Intel is embedding into its processors as it focuses more on a platform approach to its products. Other technologies include dual-core processing, Intel Active Management and I/O Acceleration technologies.

At separate panel discussions here Wednesday, the two chip makers said the enhanced virtualization will lead to easier server consolidation, greater security, and better system and software utilization.

For example, users will be able to more easily create separate partitions on a single box that can be isolated from each other, reducing the likelihood that a virus in one partition will spill over into the other or onto the network, said Greg Bryant, director of planning and marketing for Intel’s Digital Enterprise Group.

Businesses looking to migrate legacy applications onto newer x86 servers will be able to create a partition on the server that will hold the legacy data, while another partition on the same server can be used to migrate the data to the new platform, AMD’s Lewis said.

In addition, having virtualization capabilities in the CPUs will increase the performance of virtual machines created through software from VMware and Microsoft, the chip makers said.

Intel and AMD are getting support from VMware and Microsoft in their virtualization pushes. Lewis said she envisions more software makers creating virtualization offerings that will run on the chip makers’ platforms, which will spur wider adoption among users.

“Once we get more and more users using the software … you’ll get them saying, ‘If it can work here, why can’t it work there?'” Lewis said at an AMD-led panel discussion at a hotel a few blocks away from the IDF convention. Also on the panel were representatives from VMware and Sun Microsystems Inc., which is building up a portfolio of servers running AMD’s 64-bit Opteron processors.

However, while the technology generated a lot of discussion at IDF, it raised a number of questions, including how well it would complement the software offerings from VMware and Microsoft.

“The question is, how much does it improve those products, and the answer today is, I don’t know,” said Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata Inc. “VMware implies it isn’t really much, but you just don’t know.”

Haff also cautioned users not to assume that they will be able to create virtual machines simply by running systems that offer chip-based virtualization. “You’re still going to need to make an investment in software,” he said.

There also is the question of how software makers will license their products that are running on virtual machines. Martin Reynolds, an analyst with Gartner Inc. and moderator of the Intel panel discussion, said that will be a key challenge for software makers going forward. Users will not want to be charged a fee for every virtual machine the software runs on.

“The model’s going to have to change,” he said.