Why Intel's Bullish on Virtualization

by David Needle

Chip giant experiments with "cubicle cluster computing" as it looks to maximize efficiencies in its sprawling IT infrastructure.

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Virtualization has proven to be a key asset to IT departments faced with shrinking technology budgets and demands to do more with less. Enterprises dealing with so-called server sprawl, the ready addition of new server hardware to meet increased demand for IT services, have been turning to virtualization as a way to consolidate those physical machines to save both money and space.

Here at the VMworld conference this week, chip giant Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) -- as big a hardware proponent as any -- detailed its efforts to rein in spending on its own IT infrastructure, which includes a big investment in virtualization.

Intel's infrastructure currently includes some 100,000 servers and 95 data centers that span 440,000 square feet and use 18 petabytes of storage. "We have close to 60,000 servers in our design group alone," said Intel senior principal engineer Shesha Krishnapura.

As the world's leading supplier of chips, Intel's business continues to grow along with demands on its already massive infrastructure. Even though Intel looks ahead to a 35 percent year-over-year growth rate in demand for compute services, Krishnapura said the number of servers the company uses is actually going down thanks to virtualization from VMware (NYSE: VMW) and its own technology.

"We're actually seeing better throughput with virtualization and more efficient storage," said Krishnapura.

Intel is also experimenting with new ways to streamline access to IT resources. Krishnapura described a program called "cubicle cluster computing" that's being deployed to some of Intel's design sites that aren't located near one of the company's data centers.

Response time, measured in milliseconds, is extremely important to these engineers and other design personnel. Krishnapura said cubicle cluster computing is designed to give users the same access that those closer to a data center have. Rather than deploy a new rack of servers, the project involves a cluster of workstations.

"Compared to a server rack, we found the workstations use 11 percent less power and they require less airflow and cooling," Krishnapura said. "Air flow alone can consume a third of the power requirements." He also said the system has achieved its primary objective with the significant improvement in response time.

Cloud Computing

Krishnapura was joined on stage by Intel server marketing manager Jake Smith, who said the billions of dollars Intel recently spent buying security firm McAfee and Infineon's wireless unit were all about addressing a growing number of connected devices.

"There are 1.8 billion people connected to the Internet today and that number's expected to grow to almost four billion by 2015," Smith said. "And you have to believe it's not going to be just about the desktop and laptop, but cars, telephones -- a myriad of devices."

Smith explained that interest in cloud computing dovetails with the growing need to stay connected. "It's even more critical for applications," he said, noting that traditional IT infrastructure requires maintenance that sometimes leaves users offline.

"The cloud is about 24/7 access and that's what the job of IT and administrators is all about," he added.

David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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This article was originally published on Thursday Sep 2nd 2010
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