Intel, AMD spar over virtualization

Intel says its multi-OS technology is ready for testing, while AMD works the communications angle.

Intel and Advanced Micro Devices once again are angling for leadership in virtualization, technology that increases a computer's efficiency by letting it run multiple operating systems simultaneously.

Intel is expected to declare Tuesday that its Virtualization Technology (VT) is mature enough for testing and about three months away from prime time. But AMD, whose rival "Pacifica" technology won't debut in processors until midway through this year, is trying to set its own technology as a standard for virtualization of computer communications, an element not present in Intel's VT.

The two chipmakers are seeking the advantage in the strategic virtualization area. Mainstream servers using x86 processors such as Intel's Xeon and AMD's Opteron are getting features once reserved for high-end mainframes or Unix machines that let them run multiple operating systems simultaneously. That technology is timely, as well: It's one important way to keep at bay the problems of increasing electrical power consumption .

Intel's newest high-end Xeon processors--code-named Paxville --shipped with VT, but server makers employing the chip didn't enable the feature. Now, with new BIOS software available from Dell, Hewlett-Packard and IBM, that's changing, said Lorie Wigle, director of marketing for Intel's Server Platforms Group.

"We feel we're at critical mass in terms of having both software and computer maker support far enough along that IT departments can start to evaluate the technology," Wigle said. "We're at the stage where people should start their pilot with a notion of moving to production in a quarter or so."

VT will extend to more widely used chips for dual-processor servers with the release of Dempsey systems in coming months. And Itanium will get the support with "Montecito," delayed but due later this year. AMD's virtualization will arrive in mid-2006 with the "Rev F" version of its Opteron.

Software support for VT is in the new VMware Server , Wigle said, a newly free package that lets a computer run several operating systems simultaneously in partitions called virtual machines.

VT is required to run 64-bit operating systems on the software. In addition, an open-source VMware competitor called Xen uses VT to let an operating system run without having to be modified. That enables Windows to run on Xen .

Virtualization is a broad term that in general describes how one computing element can run atop a virtual foundation rather than the real thing it expects. The virtualization foundation lets hardware be used at higher capacity and lets software be reconfigured more easily.

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