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.
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.
Williams wouldnt say exactly how Pacifica would demonstrate an advance over the Intel Vanderpool and Silvervale technologies, but he also indicated that AMD wouldnt blindly follow Intels lead, either. Instead of the OS-independent Wake on LAN capability employed by Intel AMT, Williams said he defined “manageability” in terms of hardware characteristics—relaying information about the temperature of a microprocessor or whether a hard drive was about to fail back to the third-party management software.
Like Intels Talwalkar, AMDs Williams wouldnt say which processor technology would be used where. AMD is set to launch a dual-core processor for the client—most likely the desktop, although Williams declined to specify—in the second half of 2005, as well as a dual-core Opteron chip for servers and workstations in mid-2005. AMD is scheduled to present details of its dual-core architecture at the Fall Processor Forum in October, hosted by analyst firm In-Stat/MDR.
AMDs dual-core architecture is based around DirectConnect, which is based on the HyperTransport connection scheme, or what Intels Talwalkar referred to as “glueless MP [multiprocessing].” Intel-based PC designs use PCI Express to connect components, although Intel has not described the internal interconnects that its own dual-core chip will use. Its dual-core Itanium chip uses an in-order architecture and an intermediary scheduler block to bounce threads from one core to the other until they encounter a long latency stall that requires the chip to fetch information from the main system memory.
“Our architecture is not based on a bottleneck thats 20 years old that our competitor keeps holding on to,” AMDs Williams said. “The AMD64 systems approach is … how do we optimize the core processor speed, the I/O, the memory latency, the communications functions—how do we make an optimized design.”
Williams didnt rule out following Intel in another area, however. Intel chose to implement Hyper-Threading, 64-bit functionality, then a dual-core strategy; AMDs approach has been to design for 64-bit, then dual cores, leaving Hyper-Threading a possible addition for the future.
Bill Leszinske, director of digital home marketing at Intel, told reporters Wednesday that he did not know if Intel would phase out Hyper-Threading after the dual-core strategy was implemented. For now, it appears that Intels dual cores could have both.
“Hyper-Threading is a technique; theres no reason you couldnt build a dual-core product supporting four threads,” Leszinske said. However, Windows XP only supports two processors, whether they are virtual or in silicon.
“That is also a knob that one could turn,” Williams said of Hyper-Threading, noting that the initial addition of Hyper-Threading to Intels processors actually degraded performance. AMD has yet to present the “right approach to multithreaded optimization,” he said.
“Never say never,” Williams added. “[But] its not something that one could say right now.”
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