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Intel: 'We won't wait for software'

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An Intel vice president said today that his company's hardware advances will lead - not follow - software developments.

"We learned our lesson in waiting for software. We did this 64-bit thing that was perceived to be a little bit late relative to the market. So we will get the hardware out there as soon as it's ready," Kirk Skaugen of Intel's Architecture Group told a group of analysts and reporters gathered in San Francisco Tuesday morning for the rollout of the Xeon 7500 and 6500 series (née Nehalem-EX) server processors.

The hardware that Skaugen promised will continue to advance isn't merely microprocessors, but the hardwired capabilities of the company's leading-edge parts - features such as "virtualization technology, trusted-execution technology," he said.

It's all well and good to have such capabilities built into chips, but operating systems need to be upgraded to take advantage of them. In the case of the new Xeon's, however, Skaugen said that operating system vendors aren't far behind. "The good news is that, on this, we're very well aligned," he said.

Referring to the multi-bit error–correction technology that the new Xeons have borrowed from the mainframe world, Skaugen noted that "Microsoft supports machine check architecture recovery today in Windows 2008 R2." He also noted that "Red Hat is making an announcement for eight-socket scalability today," referring to that company's Tuesday release of RHEL 5.5.

Skaugen claims that operating system vendors are busily cranking away at updates. "If you talk to the other vendors, they have imminent plans to announce, just based on their regular release cycles. So you're essentially one release away from being there."

Developers - both hardware integrators and software designers - have been hammering away on the new Xeons for months, Skaugen assured his audience. "They've had these systems for nine months or more. We've been fine-tuning the Nehalem microarchitecture for a long time, and we did extra, extra testing due to this mission-critical stuff. We've shipped tens of tens of tens of thousands of units into the marketplace already."

It's a constant give-and-take between hardware and software engineers. "What drives things mainstream," Skaugen said, "is this 'software spiral' that's been talked about since the early days of Andy Grove. The fact that when we announce new hardware, it creates a software set of innovations that put more pressure on the hardware to create new hardware innovations - and the cycle goes on and on."

As Skaugen sees it, Intel is doing its part to advance platform performance, security, and scalability. Now it's the software engineers' turn - and while they're playing catch-up, Intel will be working to avoid being sucked into the vortex of that "software spiral." ®

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