Virtual Servers Unchained

Intel, AMD to take principles of virtualization mainstream.

As server virtualization becomes more mainstream in the x86 space, technology vendors are beginning to look at other areas the technology can be applied to. At the Intel Developer Forum here, Intel unveiled plans to extend its Intel Virtualization Technology beyond the system level and into the interconnect.

The Santa Clara, Calif., companys move follows a similar one by rival Advanced Micro Devices, which, in February, at a virtualization conference hosted by analyst company IDC, announced the broad availability of the technology specifications for its upcoming I/O virtualization.

Server virtualization is the idea of being able to run multiple operating systems and applications on a single physical system through the use of virtual machines, or pooling multiple machines into a single computing environment. By reducing the need to add new machines when workloads increase, virtualization also addresses the growing concern of power consumption and heat generation in the data center.

Virtualization is gaining in popularity. IDC expects spending on virtualization technology to reach $15 billion by 2009, and VMware said 90 percent of its customers have moved virtualization from the test and development environments into production.

Now Intel, AMD and others are looking to add such capabilities to other parts of the infrastructure.

Intel already has begun bringing its chip-level virtualization technology to some of its processors and will expand it throughout much of the product line—including the upcoming next-generation Itanium 2 processor, code-named Montecito—this year. During his keynote here March 7, Pat Gelsinger, senior vice president and general manager of Intels Digital Enterprise Group, said the company will expand the reach of the technology next year to include interconnects.

Gelsinger introduced Intel Virtual Technology for Directed I/O—or VT-d—which will enable users to partition and assign I/O devices to VMs. Gelsinger announced the immediate availability of the specifications for the technology, and both VMware and Microsoft said they will support it in future versions of their respective virtualization products.

AMD, of Sunnyvale, Calif., will bring virtualization capabilities—called AMD Virtualization Technology—to its processor lineup in the middle of this year. The company said in February that it expects its I/O virtualization technology to be supported by its chips this year.

On-chip virtualization is designed to bring much of the work of software hypervisors used by such virtualization vendors as VMware and Microsoft to the hardware level, increasing the reliability and performance of virtualized environments.

VMware President Diane Greene, who took the stage with Gelsinger, said in an interview that bringing virtualization to the hardware level is a key element for driving the development of the technology.

"When you can treat a machine like a file, there is so much you can do with it," Greene said.