Advanced Micro Devices is aiming to shake up the business PC.
The company, via a project it has dubbed Raiden, is eyeing new approaches to client computing for businesses. Raiden was officially unveiled by AMD during the chip makers June 1 financial analyst meeting at its Sunnyvale, Calif., headquarters. Although AMD doesnt intend for Raiden to follow a set schedule, work on the multifaceted effort has been under way for some time.
At its heart, the effort seeks to broaden the number of methods that businesses can use to allow workers to tap into their work-related applications and data to do their jobs. Several of the new models seek to separate the core desktop computing experience from a given type of physical hardware—usually a desktop PC—by encapsulating the graphical user interface, applications and data, and delivering it to workers screens via the corporate network, versus locating it at the desktop.
The goal, AMD said, is to centralize control and management of the applications and data and thus lower management costs versus traditional PCs. AMD, however, at the same time will continue to seek a broader share of the traditional desktop PC market.
“Raiden is trying to shift the focus away from a physical device and refer to a client computing experience. If you accept that as a premise, you get past a lot of the traditional thoughts—such as the [physical] size,” said Marty Seyer, senior vice president of AMDs Commercial Business Segment, in Sunnyvale. “At the end of the day its about improving the experience.”
AMD believes that somewhere between five and 10 product categories—some of which already exist—will fall under Raiden and be available to commercial customers, he said.
The products range from traditional thin clients to new approaches such as stateless PCs, which have no hard drive, and partitioned PCs that use virtualization to limit a given employee to accessing only work applications or to deploy a special work partition containing corporate software onto an employee-purchased PC.
“Weve had a significant number of discussions with end clients asking us to reinvent this approach. The only way to get a handle on TCO is to change the model,” Seyer said. “One way to change that is to shift [computing] cycles to the data center.”
AMD is making some assumptions, including that customers will use energy-efficient servers on the back end and have sufficient network bandwidth in place to support the operation of devices such as stateless PCs, Seyer admitted.
The stateless PC, he said, is a “straightforward way to do it as long as youve got the bandwidth and you can guarantee users a performance level.”
Such machines are desktops built using standard hardware. But they lack local storage. Thus, the operating systems, applications and data they access are all located on a server, which streams them via a network connection.
AMD also envisions a split-mode computer consisting of two pieces—one, a mobile device not unlike an ultramobile PC, and another that also serves as a dock for its mobile half—that allows users to take their data with them between meetings or even on the road and plug into conference rooms and other areas, when necessary.
AMDs vision of the partitioning approach would keep applications and some data storage local but contain them within a work-only partition and not allow workers to load other software or access other parts of a given PC.
On the flip side, AMD envisions the use of virtualization to install a work-only partition on any PC, allowing access to work software only from that area on a machine. “IT could ask you to bring your own computing device to work. Thats not too far-fetched. The IT role there is to provide a partition,” Seyer said. “In the next five years I could see that happening.”
Raiden will dovetail with Trinity, a second new technology initiative introduced by AMD on June 1 thats designed to help boost PC manageability and security.
The two are rooted strongly in virtualization, technology that makes it possible to divide up a computers resources, allowing multiple software instances to run on the machine simultaneously.
AMD has added virtualization capabilities directly into its chip just as Margaret Lewis, director of commercial solutions for AMD, said virtualization is becoming an enabler for new technologies that would otherwise be more difficult or outright impossible to offer in PCs or other types of computers.
To that end, AMD is designing Trinity to allow AMD partners to harness virtualization by offering them the keys to locking down aspects of their systems to increase their manageability along with a programming interface thats open enough to integrate into their existing tools.
“You dont start talking about security without virtualization, and you dont talk about virtualization without the question of manageability,” Lewis said.
“Once you make virtual machines, the question is how you manage them, then security comes back into play. What we find is almost a chicken and an egg” situation.
Locking down the guest OS begins with the hardware, and specifically with AMDs virtualization-aware Direct Connect memory controllers, Lewis said.
Trinitys genesis is a technology called Enhanced Virus Protection, a feature AMD first introduced into the Athlon64 series of desktop microprocessors.
EVP allows the OS to call out certain sections of memory that were prohibited from running code.
Trinity will take this a step further, providing this capability to management processors controlling the virtualized machines, Lewis said.
AMD is also participating in the Open Platform Management Architecture, a standard for allowing companies like Peppercon, for example, to develop sophisticated KVM (keyboard/video/mouse) devices. The gear can allow computers to be accessed remotely.
While he admits that realization of some of the companys ideas might take time, AMD is already working with some end customers and it is also readying many of the building blocks needed to create new types of client devices, Seyer said.
AMD also unveiled on June 1 a virtualization tool kit, which it will offer to PC makers who wish to add partitions to their PCs for management and other purposes. It has also announced plans to deliver a new line of low-power processors, designed for small desktops and PC-alternative designs.
Of course, corporate IT departments will need to take stock of the new approaches, Seyer said. For example, could they ensure the proper controls on their corporate data when running a partition on an employees own machine and, in so doing, find the total cost of ownership model?
But so-called stateless PCs based on AMD hardware could come out sooner rather than later.
“We have a relationship with end customers who are trialing stateless devices [and] delivering software and apps as a service inside their enterprise,” he said.
Mark Hachman contributed to this report.
Editors Note: This story was updated to include information about AMDs virtualization efforts.
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