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Hardware support for virtualization moves closer to reality

The release of virtualization chips might drum up more interest in this technology from IT shops.

The need to consolidate its servers drove Desert Schools Federal Credit Union in Phoenix to explore virtualization technology. Now, systems engineer Doug Baer can't imagine life without a virtual infrastructure.

Desert Schools is Arizona's largest credit union and has more than 1,500 employees. With VMware's ESX Server, Baer said the company is running only four servers instead of 20, which he estimates would be necessary without the technology. It is administrators like Baer, sold on virtualization, who are watching closely as both major chip vendors announce their intentions when it comes to hardware support for the technology.

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"With the new processors, I think we would see performance improvements," Baer said.

Intel Corp., based in Santa Clara, Calif., and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) Inc., in Sunnyvale, Calif., are both angling for front-runner status in the virtualization space. Earlier this week, Intel said its virtualization technology, known as VT, is ready for testing and will be ready for shipment in three months.

Not to be outdone, AMD stated its intentions to release the specification for its I/O virtualization technology to developers. The company also said virtualization will be available on all AMD processors released in mid-2006.

"Both [companies] realize that virtualization is becoming an important part of the mass market," said Kelly Quinn, an analyst with IDC, a Framingham, Mass., market research firm. "They are getting serious and close to bringing their offerings to the enterprise."

Quinn said the vendors are anxious to get public perception of virtualization away from a software-only concept and raise awareness of the hardware component of the capability.

Baer said he thinks once virtualization-specific processors are available, more enterprise consumers will likely be interested in investing in virtualization.

"A lot of people think the machine is completely running in the software, and that puts them off," he said.

For all the hype surrounding virtualization, it's not something that fits the bill for every customer. For example, Bruce Hass, IT director with K2 Sports in Vashon, Wash., said he looked at Microsoft's Virtual Server for consolidation. Hass said K2's main database is an IBM UniData that runs on Unix.

"We just really didn't see where virtualization would benefit us," Hass said.

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