Intel opens door for application accelerators

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Intel opens door for application accelerators

Chipmaker formulates cautious response to AMD's open socket.

Intel has promised to allow third party hardware vendors two new ways to plug into its processors, which could enable a new market of application accelerators.

At the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, Intel's senior vice president of the Enterprise Technology Group Pat Gelsinger disclosed that Intel has allowed Xilinx and Altera to create so-called Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) that connect directly to a processor's front side bus.

An FPGA chip is designed to perform one specific task, for instance to speed up floating point calculations. Having direct access to the front side bus is expected to boost these devices' performance.

The announcement is a direct response to the support that AMD has been building for its Torenza open socket design that allows third party vedors to create co-processors that have access to the same resources as the CPU. The chipmaker last week touted that its standard had attracted interest from enterprise systems vendors including IBM, Sun Microsystems, Dell and HP.

Roger Kay, founder of analyst firm Endpoint Technologies said that Intel's move is mostly a "competitive response" to AMD's Torenza, as was illustrated by the fact that only two hardware vendors are allowed access.

"Intel considers the front side bus license a competitive weapon. They want to control who gets to use that," Kay told vnunet.com.

He cautioned however that there is no proven market for application accelerators.

"Until providers demonstrate these capabilities, the buyers aren't going to be calling for it."

In a related announcement, Intel and IBM unveiled a new interconnect standard codenamed Geneseo.

The standard is an enhancement of the existing PCI express standard that is used for storage devices, networking devices and graphics cards.

"This enhancement is pivotal to embracing the next generation of application acceleration," said Gelsinger.

Similar to the FPGAs, the standard will enable application specific accelerators. Intel touted XML messaging, encryption and decryption and compute intensive applications such as financial and geographic modeling as potential problems for the technologies to target.

The standard has been embraced by a series of technology providers including HP, Dell, EMC and Sun Microsystems.

Products based on Geneseo are expected to become available some time in 2008.
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