Multi-Core Takes a Breather

SAN FRANCISCO – Intel’s rapid transition to quad-core won’t be duplicated in the next year.

“Quad-Core will be the sweet spot for the next few years,” Boyd Davis, general manager of Intel’s server platform marketing group, told

The industry has plenty to chew on. Intel made several big architectural moves over the past year, moving from single, to dual, to quad-core processors. Its most immediate plans are further improvements to quad-core platform, Davis added. “You can be sure we’re not going from quad, to eight to 16 cores in the next year,” he said, referring to Intel’s mainstream computing plans.

Intel’s next significant scheduled quad-core release is “Tigerton”, part of Intel’s Xeon 7000 series designed for the multiprocessor servers. Tigerton is due out late next year. Intel recently showcased a prototype system that included four Tigerton processors for a total of 16 cores, but the MP market is more high end than mainstream.

Corporate customers and Intel partners took their turn at an event here Tuesday, which the chip giant dubbed the Intel Quad-Core Software Symposium. The major Intel server makers (Dell, IBM, HP, etc.) all announced systems based on Intel’s Xeon 5300 quad-core chips earlier week. This event focused on software opportunities with quad-core systems.

“Quad-core and virtualization are the biggest synergistic trends happening in computing,” said Brian Byun, vice-president of products and alliances at VMware.

The move to quad-core is good news for VMware. According to Byun, the virtualization software company has customers that have refused to virtualize their apps until quad-core systems were available to handle them.

Beyond the standard benefits of partitioning operating systems and applications, Byun said VMware plans to tap quad-core to bring new capabilities to IT. “Imagine Tivo for your data centers,” said Byun.

Companies will be able to use VMware software to shadow and record all the activity of specific application use. “You’ll be able to go back in time when there’s a problem and run the apps at different speeds to [identify] what went wrong,” he said.

Analysts agree Intel has the early edge over its smaller rival AMD in bringing quad-core servers to market and its claim of top performance bragging rights.

“We expect to ship a million quad-cores before the competition ships any,” Kirk Skaugen, general manager of Intel’s server platforms group, told

AMD plans to release its first quad-core chips about the middle of next year.

Dennis Faurebach, manager of distributed systems at retailer Chicos, said he’s glad to see the competition because he plans to buy quad-core servers as soon as possible.

We’re running out of space in the data center, and quad-core will help us consolidate,” Faurebach told Chicos currently has a mix of both HP and IBM servers based on both AMD and Intel chips.

AMD beat Intel to the punch last year when it shipped Opteron, the first dual-core, x86 processor for servers. While AMD undoubtedly would have liked to beat its rival to market again, the news isn’t all bad.

Intel is gearing up its vast marketing resources to spread the word that quad-core is the next important wave. To the extent AMD releases a competitive product (the company has already claimed in advance release that its quad-core design is more efficient and powerful), Intel’s efforts will help get the message out of the performance advantages quad-core offers.

Database and other enterprise applications will be able to take immediate advantage of the quad-core architecture and run faster. Other software needs to be developed to address the multi-core architecture. Intel is investing heavily in this area.

Skaugen noted that Intel has over 10,000 software engineers, with many projects related to the software tools needed to develop multi-threaded applications that can more fully exploit the multi-core architecture.

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