Intel to bear chip fruit

Driven by the advent of Web services, Intel has begun a wide-ranging process of adapting its hardware infrastructure offerings to accelerate the interactions of machine-to-machine computing.

The effort includes plans to make microprocessors capable of optimizing run-time environments, developing its associative cache design and processor parallelism for an end-to-end Web services infrastructure.

In addition, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company is attempting to develop Intel processors that allow PCs to capitalize on Web services and produce a "new vector of performance," said Chris Thomas, Intel's chief e-strategist.

Web services-aware processors will account for a future in which PCs are virtually connected to the network at all times.

Inherent in Intel's assumptions about always-on computing is recognition that it must support the always-on demand requirements of a Web services application.

On one hand, Intel is looking to embed Web services standards, such as SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), within its processors in the future.

"There are a whole new set of things that we can do to make Web services run great on Intel silicon," said Pat Gelsinger, Intel's CTO.

"Our job is to take core primitives in software and melt it into drivers and eventually into gates on the chip."

Specifically, Gelsinger said, Intel is focusing silicon enhancements around run time environments such as the JIT (just in time) compiler and garbage collection activities. Intel will also leverage silicon to enhance the communication and security models built around Web services.

"The software spiral is alive and well," Gelsinger said. "We can now take this next level of abstraction in software, which creates more demand for computing capacity."

The other aspect of Intel's plans is to support a computing environment where code is executed at run time to facilitate the asynchronous nature of loosely coupled business processes.

"We're extremely interested in optimizing run times and doing it in a consistent way for the different run times that could run on a platform," said Colin Evans, director of Intel distributed systems and cochair of Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS).

As a result, the Web services model calls for higher-powered client computers that work in an environment where peer-to-peer services -- as an application subset of Web services -- extend the capabilities of existing enterprise applications.

"There's just a tremendous amount of opportunity for the PC to really be both consuming and producing," said Keith Uebele, Intel's Web services strategist. "Pretty soon, this personal computer, which was just a productivity tool, is functioning like a server."

Building on that hardware layer, Intel also sees higher requirements for server blades capable of supporting a host of different Web services.

"We're setting up in our server architecture [where you] end up hosting potentially thousands of different types of apps," Uebele said.

By breaking down server blades into their core functions -- I/O, processing, and storage -- they can be deployed to service a user's specific application needs, he said.

Also fitting into the Web services infrastructure puzzle is an attempt to improve application performance through parallelism and the hyperthreading features incorporated in the Itanium and Xeon processors, explained Will Swope, vice president of Intel software solutions.

"Parallelism is, rather than just having to [shove] resources through let's say a single system ... [the architecture handles] multiple paths of information because the workloads are just getting so much larger and so much more diverse," Swope said.

"We intend to drive hyperthreading down through the entire [processor line]," Swope added.

So in addition to the improved performance of distributed applications, Intel is hoping its initiatives will reduce the cost of entry for large projects such as achieving compliance with the RosettaNet standards consortium and integrating e-business applications, Swopesaid.

Incorporating this focus on Web services-led ROI, Intel is set to roll out in May a Web services application project for grocery chain Albertson's: an inventory pricing management system based on Intel hardware and Microsoft's .Net environment.

The Boise, Idaho-based grocer will use a custom application to automatically aggregate pricing changes for hundreds of store items from a variety of distributors.

Currently operating in test mode at Intel's Santa Clara Solution Center, Intel said the project illustrates its emerging role facilitating the development of Web services environments.

The system will replace the existing, mostly manual process of gathering distributors' pricing changes, and provide the grocer with business intelligence on various products, said Terry Wolvert, managing partner at Portland, Ore.-based integrator Digitalrep, an Intel partner deploying the system for Albertson's.

Digitalrep's system utilizes Comvia software to enable clients to communicate back to the Intel server via a Web interface.

Wolvert explained that as suppliers enter price changes into an Excel spreadsheet, the data automatically cascades into Albertson's system via the Internet.

Michael Vizard contributed to this report.

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