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NEW YORK—Users with servers powered by Intel’s “Paxville” Xeon MP processor can now activate the chip’s virtualization capabilities.

Speaking at a conference here on virtualization, Diane Bryant, vice president and general manager of Intel’s Server Platforms Group, said that users can now contact systems makers Dell, Hewlett-Packard and IBM to help them upgrade the BIOS on the chip to enable the activation of the Intel Virtualization Technology.

The technology was in the chip when it started shipping last year, but it was disabled until now.

“You can now enable virtualization technology in your servers and start running it in your testing and development environments,” Bryant told the conference attendees.

She also noted support from Red Hat and Novell’s SuSE Linux unit for the open-source Xen virtualization technology, and announced virtualization software vendor VMware’s release Feb. 6 of its free VMware Server product.

As reported on Feb. 2, VMware is rolling out the product as a free entry-level offering designed to give businesses with little or no experience with server virtualization a taste of the benefits the technology provides.

Virtualization enables businesses to run multiple applications and operating environments on a single server by carving it up into multiple virtual machines.

According to Vernon Turner, an analyst with IDC, based in Framingham, Mass., many businesses using the technology are running as many as 10 virtual machines on a single physical server.

The idea of virtualization was introduced four decades ago with IBM’s mainframes but has gained momentum in recent years with the growth of more powerful and smaller servers, and with the advent of such companies as VMware.

Intel and rival Advanced Micro Devices are bringing virtualization capabilities to their processors as a way of improving the performance of the processors beyond simply cranking up the gigahertz. AMD will bring its virtualization technology, code-named Pacifica, into its server and client chips later this year.

Read more here about Pacifica.

AMD intends to announce on Feb. 7 the broad availability of technology specifications related to its virtualization technology. The chip maker will make the specifications available for free in order to encourage hardware and software developers to adopt the technology. It will begin offering chips that contain the technology, formally named AMD CPU virtualization technology, at midyear.

Bryant said Intel will also spread VT—once dubbed “Vanderpool”—throughout its processor portfolio, from its client chips to its highest-end Itanium server chips.

Intel and AMD officials say putting the virtualization capabilities onto the hardware will reduce the amount of complexity needed to run virtualization software, improving the performance of that software.

It also will couple with other technologies, such as dual-core chips and 64-bit processing, to ramp up the performance of the systems, Bryant said.

Virtualization, in combination with such technologies, will help businesses in a number of areas, said Turner. Speaking at the conference, he said virtualization will enable businesses to reduce their capital costs by reducing the number of physical servers needed in the data center, and improves utilization of those computers.

In addition, not having to add many new servers will help enterprises manage their data center cooling and power costs, he said. Right now, it costs about $40,000 to cool and power 100 servers, he said.

In addition, as virtualization takes hold among businesses—at another conference last week, Turner estimated that about 80 percent of all data centers use virtualization technology—it will continue to spread beyond servers to operating systems, applications, storage and networking, he said.

Bryant said most concerns from customers center around reliability, performance and software support. She said a recent enterprise that consolidated 10 two-way Xeon-based servers onto two four-way Xeon-based servers—thanks in part to virtualization technology—saved $48,000 on hardware costs and $71,000 in operation costs.

The performance will continue to improve as the other technologies—such as Intel dual-core chips with HyperThreading—become more common. Intel expects 85 percent of all server chips shipped by the end of the year will be dual-core, she said.

In addition, future chips—such as the upcoming “Bensley” Xeon processor—will feature other technology, such as Intel I/O Acceleration and support for fully buffered DIMM.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated to include information from an announcement made at the IDC Virtualization Forum in New York.

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