AMD (Advanced Micro Devices Inc.) wants to help remove the barriers that, thus far, have prevented virtualization from the mainstream of the x86 computer space.
Executives from the Sunnyvale, Calif., chipmaker, in a presentation at this weeks Processor Forum in San Jose, Calif., detailed its efforts to add elements that support virtualization, or the ability to divide up a computer to run different sets of software, into its processors for the benefit of software developers.
Code-named Pacifica, technical details on the AMD technology have been available since May. However, AMD used the forum to describe the technology in depth for the first time to the public, and believes Pacifica will soon be ubiquitous.
The companys presentation included details on its approach to important elements of virtualization, such as memory management. The chipmaker also detailed future additions to Pacifica, such as adding support for virtualization of input/output functions.
Virtualization is already in use on x86 servers thanks to software developed by EMC Corp.s VMWare, Microsoft Corp. and XenSource Inc.
However, AMD says those companies have had to go to great lengths to make it possible. Thus one of the chipmakers main goals in offering Pacifica is to eliminate the need for software heroics by implementing several features that help make virtualization possible in its chips.
The additions will allow hypervisor software, which acts like a traffic cop for a system running virtualization, to be made much less complex and therefore offer better performance and take less computing power to run in the future, AMD executives said in an interview with Ziff Davis Internet.
"The thing I want everyone to get is virtualization is the next big thing in x86 architecture," said Kevin McGrath, manager of AMDs Advanced Architecture Group. "I want people to understand what weve done, so they can get heir heads around the [Pacifica] architecture and use it."
To that end, AMD executives listed Pacifica features, including a memory management element, which the company says helps take the sting out of virtualization software development by eliminating the need to create complex heuristics to handle memory management in the hypervisor.
The first Pacifica chips, which will include dual-core and singles-core Athlon 64s and Opterons, will hit the market in the first half of 2006, AMD has said.
However, the company will aim to improve the technology over time.
"As we gather more real work usability around this stuff, were going to acquire data on how we need to tune it and tweak it," McGrath said.
One thing AMD will target in the future is input/output virtualization, which it says will move physical device addresses to memory addresses, he said.
Therefore, "Pacificas not the final solution for virtualization on x86," McGrath said. "Moving forward, youll see much more effort targeted around I/O virtualization."
Although the technology isnt likely to benefit software makers such as VMWare directly at first—theyve already written hypervisors and done much of the heavy lifting to make virtualization possible in software—the chipmaker expects its work will help open up new opportunities for numerous other software developers.
Aside from helping businesses fully utilize the processing power of their servers, the ability to partition a machine could be used to create new security applications.
A client-side program could open up a partition for just Web surfing, which would help close off the rest of the computer from catching an Internet worm or becoming infected by spyware, McGrath said.
AMD, which has been working with XensSource to port its software to Opteron, will also support open source software by offering up code for Pacifica and XenSources Xen virtualization software, he said.
AMD isnt the only chipmaker working on virtualization. Intel, its chief rival in the x86 space, is rolling out a similar technology, dubbed Intel Virtualization Technology.
The technology, also known as VT or by the code-name Vanderpool, will be present in Intels platforms, including those for server platforms and desktops in 2006, the company has said.
The two chipmakers virtualization technologies are similar enough so that software makers can write one program that supports both, they have said.
Software makers "will be able to do that because we took an architecturally similar approach," McGrath said.