AMD Aims Enterprise Chips at Cloud, Virtualization

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2011-03-30

AMD Aims Enterprise Chips at Cloud, Virtualization

NEW YORK-Enterprise computing increasingly will hinge on cloud computing and virtualization, and Advanced Micro Devices' server chip road map dovetails nicely with that trend, according to a company executive.

In a recent interview with eWEEK here, Vlad Rozanovich, director of North America commercial business for AMD, noted the various trends-mobile computing and social networking, increasing amounts of data, the consumerization of IT, and enterprises' need to get more done with fewer resources-that are playing to the demand for cloud and virtualization, which promise lower costs, higher utilization and better management.

There's also that issue that while half of the world's population currently has no access to Internet-connected devices, the gap is being bridged, which will only add to the data being generated out there.

That data will need to be handled-moved, stored, backed up-by fast, efficient and powerful servers, Rozanovich said. "All that content still needs to be created and distributed," he said.

And it's in this environment that AMD-with its Fusion initiative and straight-through computing strategy, as well as its mix of GPUs (graphics processing units) and CPUs-expects to flourish, both in servers and enterprise PCs, Rozanovich said. AMD's Fusion APUs (accelerated processing units) feature the CPU and GPU on the same piece of silicon. The company introduced its first Fusion chips during the Consumer Electronics Show in January, with those APUs aimed at desktop and notebook PCs.

With the growing amount of online video content being produced-via such technology as video conferencing and video downloads-having chips with compute and discrete-level graphics, including DirectX 11 capabilities, improves the overall user experience, he said. That DX 11 support is also a key difference between AMD's "Brazos" chips and rival Intel's "Sandy Bridge" offerings, which also include the CPU and GPU on the same die but don't offer DX 11 support.

When talking about notebooks these days, it's impossible to avoid the issue of tablets. Intel executives say the company will be aggressive in the burgeoning tablet market through its Atom platform, with Intel-powered tablets hitting the market later this year. AMD is taking a more measured approach, particularly in the commercial space. Rozanovich, pointing to numbers from market research firm Gartner, noted that by 2015, less than 10 percent of commercial PCs will be using a touch interface, such as those found on tablets.

"It's a market that's taken off in the last year, but when you look at commercial and enterprise customers, will they really use it?" he said. Users in an enterprise setting "are still going to need the notebook type of form factor."

AMD Not Ignoring Tablet Space


Still, AMD isn't ignoring the tablet space. Brazos, Rozanovich said, "no doubt can be used in tablets." In addition, the company is working on an APU based on the "Bobcat" core, code-named "Krishna," which will span across desktops, notebooks and tablets. Krishna is due out in 2012.

Gartner analysts are expecting tablets to have a growing impact in the commercial space. The firm on March 30 announced that it is adding Apple's iPad and other tablets into its global IT spending forecasts, and that for 2011, the move increased the projected spending growth from 5.1 percent to 5.6 percent.

Later this year, AMD is expected to roll out its next generation of Opteron chips based on its "Bulldozer" core, including one code-named "Interlagos," which will offer up to 16 cores and will target two- and four-socket systems. The increased core count combined with the high energy efficiency will give businesses greater performance in hyperscale, virtual and cloud computing environments, Rozanovich said.

"Virtualization loves cores, databases love cores, [and] cloud computing loves cores," he said.

Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT, said the new Opterons could give AMD a boost in its struggle against Intel in the enterprise. Over the past few years, as Intel was releasing highly successful Xeon processors, AMD was having difficulty getting businesses interested in its Opteron 4100 and 6100 families, King said in an email to eWEEK.

"On the plus side, the company has new Opteron products slated for introduction later this year," he said. "There also seems to be growing interest among businesses for enhanced desktop graphics to enable communication/collaboration video conferencing solutions, which could play well to AMD's integrated ATI technologies. Problem is that Intel is already heading that way with robust products of its own so AMD is likely to find the going pretty tough. In addition, Intel has been enjoying success in areas most folks don't associate with x86, including storage and networking. I don't hear much about AMD making similar forays into new markets."

The challenge for AMD now will be how the company positions itself to OEMs, King said. "What are the advantages of dealing with AMD at a time when Intel seems, for all intents and purposes, to be surging further and further ahead in both mindshare and market share?" he said.

Rozanovich said AMD's straight-through computing strategy will be a differentiator. Straight-through computing is enabled by the Bulldozer core, which enables programs to share resources more efficiently by offering dedicated resources for each integer thread. The design is more efficient than Intel's Hyper Threading technology, Rozanovich said. In addition, he noted that while Intel offers a lot of Xeon chips with disparate configurations, AMD's processors all come with the same features.

Rocket Fuel