3Leaf Lands Intel License For CPU Virtualization

3Leaf Systems today announced it has obtained a license for Intel’s QuickPath
Interconnect
, which will allow it to build virtualization support for
Intel servers. Previously, the company only had a HyperTransport
license and only supported AMD servers.

3Leaf uses a direct communication network between server CPUs so data
does not have to go over an Ethernet or Fibre Channel connection. The
company makes special virtualization processors for the motherboard to
virtualize the CPUs, memory and I/O of the entire datacenter.

The 3Leaf technology breaks down the physical walls of x86 servers and
makes their resources available, as needed, across the datacenter. One of the problems in
datacenters is one group of servers dedicated to a task might be running at
five percent utilization, while another group is maxed out and needs more
CPU cycles and more memory.

“We are enabling the next generation of the datacenter, which are going
to be dynamic data centers, where resources, compute, memory or I/O could be
made available to the applications on an on demand basis rather than in a
static way the way it exists today,” said B.V. Jagadeesh, president and CEO
of 3Leaf.

The concept of dynamic data isn’t new with 3Leaf, mainframes have had it for years.
It’s just that x86 servers never could do it because they lacked the power.
“The way the processors used to communicate was too slow to do this,” said
Jagadeesh. “AMD’s HyperTransport interface helped, as does QuickPath.”

The other problem was the back end fabric, as he called networking, had
too much latency to make it acceptable. Now with Infiniband or 10Gbit
Ethernet, such interconnects are possible.

Reinventing the mainframe?

“At the end of the day we’re almost reinventing the mainframe here,” said
George Crump, founder and president of Storage Switzerland, an analyst firm
focused on the storage and virtualization marketplaces. “I spoke to someone
at American Express who said ‘VMware is great but I can’t scale outside the
box.’ I think we’re going to see that, where flexibility will require the
ability to virtualize outside of the sheet metal.”

The solution is an unusual one: a chip to handle the load balancing that
goes into the processor socket. So instead of an Opteron or Xeon on the
motherboard socket, a 3Leaf processor goes in its place. A PCI Express card
isn’t an option, as the bus is not fast enough.

Jagadeesh understands some companies may not want to sacrifice a
processor but added that he hopes by the time the chips ship, motherboards
have an extra processor socket for the chip so a CPU does not have to be
sacrificed.

Crump added that most servers he sees today in large deployments use four
socket machines, which would not be as great a loss of performance as it
would be in a two-socket server.

It will be a while before you can get one of these chips, however. The
AMD-based 3Leaf processor is planned for the first half of 2009 while the
Intel one is planned for the first half of 2010.

Crump said virtualization really brought the need for balancing out
over-provisioned and underutilized servers. “VMware has really highlighted
this weakness and brought it to light. It’s brought the idea of
virtualization home, and it’s a pretty short jump to say ‘I want to
virtualize outside the box’ because virtualization has really started
stressing systems.”

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