AMD to put virtualisation on low-end server chips

AMD plans to build security and virtualisation features in its server processors by 2006.

AMD plans to build security and virtualisation features into its server processors by 2006.  

Fred Weber, AMD's chief technical officer, said two initiatives, called Pacifica and Presidio, were under way. Pacifica is the virtualisation technology while Presidio involves security. Weber did not provide any details about either technology except that both were expected in 2006.

Insight 64 analyst Nathan Brookwood said that although virtualisation technology had been used on mainframes and high-end servers for years, IT departments were also starting to use it on low-end servers.

IT managers use virtualisation software from companies such as VMware to create virtual operating environments on servers where computing resources can be allocated to various tasks based on changing workloads. The idea is to have multiple applications running different operating systems from a single server rather than running the applications and operating systems on separate servers.

However, this is a demanding task for software, and some companies like IBM and Sun have built specific hardware technologies into their Power 5 and UltraSparc chips to offload some of the virtualisation tasks onto the hardware.

"In order to virtualise technologies within a processor, a little bit of hardware goes a long way," said Brookwood. "Users still need virtualisation software, but that software will run much faster with hardware support."

Neither Intel nor AMD has built such technology into their processors for low-end servers, but both are now talking about providing that capability around 2006. Intel has discussed its Vanderpool virtualisation technology at recent conferences, but like AMD, has not provided specific details.

Security is a primary concern for many server users and is being addressed by both hardware and software suppliers. AMD is working with several partners on the Presidio project. An AMD spokeswoman said the project would bring hardware-based security to server chips in 2006, and some features would also be incorporated in PC chips.

Brookwood said that AMD's Pacifica and Presidio technologies would probably closely resemble Intel's Vanderpool and LaGrande. Both companies make chips that work with Microsoft operating systems, and Microsoft has no interest in developing different versions of that software for each company's chips.

Tom Krazit writes for IDG News Service

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