Intel, AMD Processors Look to Enhance Virtualization

While much of the VMworld conference focused on VMware's plans to create an operating system capable of managing the entire data center, Intel and AMD are quietly preparing to increase virtualization at both the processor and chip-set level. In the coming months, Intel plans to detail the virtualization capabilities of its Nehalem processors, while AMD is launching a new server platform that will feature the ability to create I/O virtualization.

When it comes to virtualization, whether it's in the data center, up in the cloud or down on the desktop, Intel and Advanced Micro Devices are preparing to expand the capabilities of their processors and chip sets to better handle workloads in virtual environments.

While the recent VMworld conference focused on how VMware would build and sell an operating system capable of managing all the physical and virtual components in the data center, representatives from Intel and AMD were detailing how their processors and platform would handle the emerging virtual world.

Intel and AMD, which are the world's two leading providers of x86 processors, have been incorporating technologies into their chips for several years to make virtualization easier. However, with the increased use of the technology within the data center and the desktop, chip makers are looking to greatly enhance those capabilities.

In the coming months, customers can expect a number of new details about how both Intel and AMD will increase the ability to create I/O virtualization and make better use of memory allocations within virtual and physical environments.

Jim McGregor, research director at In-Stat, said Intel and AMD have been making big investments in virtualization technology since switching to multicore processors. Now, the challenge is the how to deal with the rest of system as virtualization continues to expand beyond its roots as a server consolidation tool.

"The next challenge, which is even harder, is virtualizing the rest of the system," McGregor said.

"When you partition the rest of the system, you have to [take] account of dedicated memory, dedicated I/O and dedicated storage," McGregor added. "What everyone is trying to do is take individual servers that would have been dedicated to a specific resource or a specific application and try to put a whole rack of servers into a single server. However, we still have to be able to partition accordingly to make sure there isn't data corruption and to make sure there is security between partitions."

What companies need to do now is figure out the best way to partition the rest of the system. For Intel and AMD, this means not only improving how their processors can allocate memory, but creating ways to virtualize the I/O of these systems. By adding these virtualization features, Intel and AMD are also creating system-on-a-chip designs that incorporate tasks that normally would have been performed on software and bringing those tasks down to the hardware level.

In the days leading up to VMworld show earlier in September, Intel made the first move to show off what it would do with virtualization with its new processors and chip sets for multiprocessor server systems.

These Intel chips, formerly code-named Dunnington and now called the Xeon 7400 series, included a virtualization technology dubbed Flex Migration, which is designed to work with VMware's VMotion and allows for virtual machines to move between three generation of Intel processors and chip sets, including upcoming chips based on the new "Nehalem" microarchitecture.