AMD Preps Pacifica Virtualization Technology

The chip maker is developing its own virtualization initiative to counter Intel's "Silvervale."

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. is countering Intels "Silvervale" virtualization technology with its own initiative, executives said late Wednesday.

"Pacifica" is being internally developed within AMD as an "advanced virtualization" technology, said Ben Williams, vice president of the enterprise workstation business at AMD, in an interview.

At the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, Intel executives have begun talking about several of their core processor technologies, including Silvervale, the hardware-assisted virtualization technology due to roll out next year. Intel also has an almost identical technology, called "Vanderpool," which is designed for client platforms.

Both technologies are seen as vital to future development. "We are on record as saying that Vanderpool is the most significant change to PC architecture this decade," said Martin Reynolds, a PC technology analyst at Gartner Inc., in San Jose, Calif.

Abhi Talwalkar, vice president of Intels Enterprise Platforms Group, described the Silvervale technology as a "key system strategy for IT managers" in a keynote address Tuesday. The dual-core "Montecito," the next-generation Itanium processor, has already successfully booted this technology, he said. "Yonah," Intels dual-core mobile chip due next year, uses the Vanderpool technology.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read more about Intels dual-core plans.

While Intel has been fairly open about its technology plans, AMD has taken a more conservative approach. "What were doing is a very practical approach to computing," Williams said. "Were taking a very practical approach from 32- to 64-bit. We dont believe disruptive technology transitions are the way to go. We believe customers are asking for the opposite."

Williams declined to disclose all of AMDs competitive response to the Intel technologies.

AMD has its own dual-core plans: Last week, the company demonstrated working dual-core Opteron silicon within a ProLiant DL585 server from Hewlett-Packard Co. at its headquarters in Sunnyvale, Calif., then brought the server to San Francisco for a more public viewing. The company also has its own power management technology that it has installed in its desktop processors, and Williams disclosed that it will dub its upcoming security technology "Presidio"—the counterpart to Intels LaGrande.

For now, the company is working with existing virtualization companies such as VMware and Microsoft to enable software-based virtualization, Williams said.

"Were continuing down the path of how do I do server consolidation—virtualization is one way to do that," he said.

Virtualization technologies work by creating a sort of subring, a term given to the levels of interaction between the operating system and the hardware. Normally, Windows and other operating systems operate at "Ring 0," the level closest to the hardware. Virtualization software creates a subring, convincing Windows that it is still interacting at the Ring 0 level, but allowing the virtualization software to treat the OS like any other windowed application, Reynolds said.

VMware inserts its ESX operating environment underneath the virtualized operating systems as a means of controlling them. Its not clear how Intel plans to manage the virtualized operating systems, analysts said, although running the virtualization process in hardware would undoubtedly speed up the process.

Five years ago, the advent of Vanderpool and Silvervale might have commoditized VMware and run it out of business. Now, the technology may serve to emphasize the companys other offerings, Reynolds said.

Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with Insight64 in Saratoga, Calif., agreed. "Its not really competitive with VMware," he said.

"There are lots of system issues with Intels management technology," Brookwood added, referring to the Intel Active Management Technology that Intel unveiled on Tuesday. "Its the same with virtualization. Its not a magic hardware technology. VMware and Virtual PC may run a little better on top of the technology," and it wont put them out of business, he said.

Next page: Following Intels lead.