3Leaf Lands Intel License For CPU Virtualization

With both Intel and AMD onboard, 3Leaf is ready to pursue mainframe-style provisioning for the x86 server world.

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."

TAGS: virtualization,chips,Intel,AMD,VMware

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