Intel, AMD multicore chip sales may be slowed by software

Virtualization fills gap while software industry struggles to catch up with Intel, AMD advances

Trying to boost the IT capabilities at his digital forensics company, Brian Dykstra invested in a quad-core processor-based server. After all, he figured, more cores means a more powerful machine that can do far more work than single-core systems.

However, after shelling out money for the new technology, Dykstra found that only one out of the four cores was working. Three-fourths of his hardware investment was sitting idle because the software he was running wasn't built to make use of multiple cores.

Dykstra isn't alone in his disappointment with the lack of software for multicore chips. As hardware firms increase the number of cores in single chips, most software simply isn't keeping pace, creating a huge drag on efforts to take advantage of the potentially significant hardware-based performance improvements.

Software running on multicore chips must be built to let different cores handle different tasks in an application at the same time, significantly boosting performance.

Dykstra noted that while some server software from major vendors like Microsoft and Oracle, has been partially multi-threaded, for the most part there is a dearth of such applications.

Once Dykstra, co-founder and a senior partner at Jones Dykstra & Associates, figured out his firm's most critical software, he compiled a list of vendors, picked up the phone and started haranguing them to add support for the chips. He didn't identify the vendors.

Nonetheless, some IT managers have been able to cut costs and hardware needs by using the multicore technology in virtualization projects.

For instance, when a company goes down the virtualization road with multicore systems, each core is assigned its own virtual machine, allowing each to run a separate application..

Virtualization on multicore chips is working out very well for Bruce McMillan, manager of emerging technologies at the US division of Solvay Pharmaceuticals, who has scaled his virtual machine total by 50 percent while cutting the number of physical servers in his data center almost in half.

McMillan said he had been running 100 virtual machines on eight servers running single-core processors. He added two dual-core servers about a year ago and he was able to scale from 100 to 150 virtual machines.

About a month ago, Solvay installed a quad-core server, which enabled it to retire three single-core servers. The company is now in the process of adding two more quad-core servers, which will replace all of the remaining single core systems, according to McMillan.

"It's saved me $500,000 [so far] just in hardware costs," he said. "I can have much higher consolidation ratios than I had before. This is about server consolidation."

McMillan said he's looking forward to getting more multi-threaded software but, for today, he's happy that the multicores are allowing him to do more work with less hardware.

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