Intel will not position the Atom for server markets

The company plans to add McAfee security technology to its server products

Intel will not position its Atom processor for the server market, even as some vendors are building servers around collections of hundreds of low-power Atom processors, a company executive said.

A server that integrates 512 Atom processors with Ethernet switching, server management and application load-balancing was demonstrated earlier this month at Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in San Francisco by SeaMicro, a vendor of low-power server technology.

The SeaMicro server, and some new servers that use low-power chips based on ARM processors, will address only very niche markets, Kirk Skaugen, Intel's vice president and general manager of its Data Center Group, said on Thursday.

"We are not opposed to an Atom based server, but we just don't see broad adoption of the Atom as a server chip," he said.

ARM processors have the added disadvantage of not being compatible with software written for the x86 architecture, Skaugen said.

He pointed to a recent article, "Brawny cores still beat wimpy cores, most of the time" by Urs Hölzle, senior vice president of operations and Google Fellow at Google, which said that even though many Internet services benefit from seemingly unbounded request and data-level parallelism, as the number of parallel threads increases, reducing serialization and communication overheads can become increasingly difficult.

At some point you are so highly parallelized that you start doing artificial things in programming, that become unnatural, Skaugen said.

People want energy-efficient, raw performance, and that can be found in a Xeon box, and not in a server built around Atom processors, he added.

Intel demonstrated at IDF its next generation Sandy Bridge microarchitecture, which has eight cores which are each symmetric multi-threaded. "So in a two-socket system you will have 32 threads, which is cooler than putting 32 single-core Atom chips," Skaugen said.

Intel also announced at IDF new processors targeted for servers.

Security technology from Intel's proposed acquisition of McAfee will also go into server chips, though Skaugen declined to go into details. By coupling hardware and McAfee software in the chip, Intel hopes to shift the focus in security from recognizing and detecting historical threat signatures, to preventing unknown, "zero-day" security attacks by proactively identifying an issue, he said.

Wireless technology from the proposed acquisition of Infineon's wireless business is less likely to go into Intel's server products, as these technologies tend to be more relevant on the client side, Skaugen said.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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John Ribeiro

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