Commentary
1/31/2011
03:23 PM
Lamont Wood
Lamont Wood
Commentary

16-Core Servers? Do You Mean Hardware Virtualization?

Microsoft is reportedly calling for 16-core servers based on simple CPUs as way to save power. Could this spare us from software virtualization?



Microsoft is reportedly calling for 16-core servers based on simple CPUs as way to save power. Could this spare us from software virtualization?That part of cyberspace devoted to computer hardware gossip has been buzzing with a report that Microsoft is demanding that Intel cough up 16-core server CPUs based on the low-power Atom processor. The farther the news outlet was from Silicon Valley, the more definite the report became.

But, as usual, reality is messier. Microsoft engineer Dileep Bhandarkar gave the keynote address at the Linley Group's Data Center Conference in Silicon Valley last week, with the stated topic of energy efficiency in data centers.

His call for 16-core servers came as he pointed out that there is an opportunity to improve energy efficiency using small, low-power mobile processors like the Intel Atom or the upcoming AMD Bobcat. They are more efficient with average server workloads than high-end chips like the Intel Xeon, he reportedly said.

Meanwhile, he apparently did not say anything about improved performance through parallelization. Presumably, that's because he knows that adding cores does not trigger improved system performance unless the software is written to take advantage of the additional cores-a non-trivial task.

Instead, he reportedly talked about energy efficiency, implying that having 16 cores on a chip would let you share peripheral, current-hungry circuitry among 16 processors. In other words, instead of using software virtualization to run 16 applications on one machine, he'd prefer hardware virtualization with a machine that can run 16 applications in parallel, because it really is 16 machines.

Frankly, that sounds like a much simpler approach to the problem-at least from the SMB end-user viewpoint-and I hope he gets what he wants. Server designers may disagree, of course.

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