AMD, Intel Eye New Turf

The chip makers are working on on-chip security and virtualization technologies.

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and Intel Corp. are readying security and virtualization technologies that will make their way into products as early as next year.

The features are key components of the chip makers respective pushes to move beyond simply making processors and create platforms based on their chip architectures.

The on-chip technologies also are offerings that users say could make software-based virtualization and security better and less complex.

"Moving virtualization into the chip would allow for even more Windows [and] Linux applications to run in a [virtual machine]," said Jevin Jensen, director of IS at Mohawk Industries Inc., in Calhoun, Ga.

Mohawk Industries runs both AMD- and Intel-based servers.

"We like [virtualization software maker] VMware [Inc.] and would love to get better performance out of each virtual machine," Jensen said.

Regarding on-chip technology, Jensen said it "would help if it would allow for real-time encryption of data while writing backups to tape. Currently, the overhead of encrypting all backups is tremendous, so you can only do certain types of data or you risk extending your backup window exponentially."

In interviews here with eWEEK, AMD officials said on-chip security and virtualization—code-named Presidio and Pacifica, respectively—will appear in their Opteron processors next year. "Everyone sees virtualization and security solving some problems that theyve had [in the data center]," said Marty Seyer, vice president and general manager of AMDs Microprocessor Business Unit.

On the security front, Presidio will take advantage of capabilities in the upcoming release of Windows Vista from Microsoft Corp., officials said.

One of the more intriguing steps AMD is taking is making its memory controller "virtualization aware," enabling the chip to create a hard boundary between virtual address spaces on a given machine.

The move also allows Presidio to prevent certain kinds of attacks in which crackers force a machine to boot to an operating system on a CD or a separate partition and then use special tools to read the RAM of the machine.

Presidio will evolve to include other protections, such as securing the channels of communication between input devices such as mice and keyboards and the operating system. Such protection depends on help from the operating system, and Microsoft is building a broad range of security capabilities, known as the Next-Generation Secure Computing Base, into Vista.

Next Page: Trusted computing.