Intel envisions modular computing future

Call it grid computing. Or modular computing. Or policy-based computing or utiliy computing. Intel Corp., which is opting for the modular designation, is preaching distribution of processing power to boost performance and reliability.

Modular computing represents a new paradigm that requires advances in both software and hardware, according to Intel.

"There [are] a lot of people that associate modular computing [with] blades and blade form factors. It's important to know this is far more than form factors and far more than blades," said Abbi Talwalkar, vice president of the Intel platform products group, in Hillsboro, Ore., during a presentation at the Intel Developer Forum Fall 2002 here on Monday.

Modular computing, the joining of multiple computing resources, is an answer for exponential data growth, application and server sprawl, and dis-aggregation of storage, according to Intel. The concept also is critical in today's tough economic times, with IT cutbacks, Talwalkar said.

Modular computing is characterized by a growth in hardware clustering and distributed computing along with software developments such as the deployment of application servers and the use of Web services for intersystem communication, he said.

"It's really advances in system management and clustering technology that's going to drive much of the adoption here," Talwalkar said.

Clustering might displace large symmetric multiprocessing systems over time, he said. Automation, enabling for dynamic allocation of resources, is probably the "heart" of modular computing, according to Talwalkar. Automation developments are needed such as self-healing systems, failover, and dynamic performance optimization, he said.

Benefits of modular computing include maximization, efficiency, Internet reliability, and seamless and simplified management, according to the company. For example, modular computing will maximize use of a server that might have 40 percent of its capacity not being used, Talwalkar said.

"Software is going to drive the success of modular computing 100 percent," Talwalker stressed.

One IDF attendee, however, criticized Intel for recently backing away from plans to produce InfiniBand-based hardware. InfiniBand, said Anil Vasudeva, president and CEO of research firm Imex Research, of San Jose, is key to making blade servers function together. InfiniBand is a next-generation switched-fabric I/O technology.

"Intel seems to have done a big boo boo job on that," Vasudeva said.

Talwalkar said that given current economics, there were "some very difficult decisions to make at Intel in terms of productizing components."

"We're still very much behind the technology," he said.

Intel in June discontinued investment in a host-side piece of silicon to support InfiniBand, deferring to other companies to undertake this development, such as IBM, Talwalkar said. But the company still believes InfiniBand is ideal for low-latency clustering.

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