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AMD details Pacifica virtualization plan

Company releases full details of technology that will let computers run multiple operating systems more easily.

Advanced Micro Devices has released full details of technology called Pacifica that will let computers run multiple operating systems more easily, an idea the computing industry is embracing enthusiastically.

Much like a competing product from Intel, AMD's Pacifica will bring the technology called virtualization to server and desktop processors. Pacifica is due out in the first half of 2006.

Virtualization, which breaks the tight coupling between hardware and software, enables software flexibility such as the capability of running multiple operating systems. That's useful for servers juggling multiple tasks and for desktop PCs divided into separate regions for personal, work and administrative uses, and a start-up called XenSource is hoping to capitalize on the idea.

AMD began releasing some Pacifica details in March but published a PDF of the full specification Wednesday.

AMD beat Intel to market with several significant features in x86 chips, including 64-bit memory support and a built-in memory controller. Intel has the edge when it comes to virtualization, however: Intel Virtualization Technology, previously code-named Vanderpool, is scheduled to arrive this year in Intel's desktop and Itanium processors.

The primary software companies concerned with virtualization are those such as XenSource, Microsoft and EMC subsidiary VMware, all of which are working on software support for multiple operating systems. However, it's likely those companies will have to reckon with some differences between Pacifica and VT.

"They're compatible in a lot of ways, but they are different," Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff said. "VMware or Microsoft, for example, will have to have slightly different implementations to handle the two different specifications."

It's possible the specifications will converge, though, at least in areas where Intel and AMD don't see a competitive advantage, Haff added.