Funny, but in the desktop world, you just don't hear about the dueling chips battles as much as you used to, don't you think? Earlier this week, I read a Wall Street Journal article on Bill Gates's "Think Week" ritual, in which he goes to a hideaway for a week or so to get uninterrupted time to read a slew of suggestions for Microsoft's next moves, and one of the papers he scanned was a report on the diminishing advances in microprocessor clock speed and what that might mean for the PC market. (Good article on a good idea; I'd link to it, but of course those canny capitalists at the WSJ charge to see their online content. Try your local library, where your taxes have already paid for this story.) More often than not, the desktop market now is differentiated by other features in the box or, usually, software.
Not so the server market. Here, advances in multicore technology, multiprocessor architectures, and cache size still make a huge difference in the server room and how companies can harness every little bit of efficiency for their IT environments. That's why Intel was able to roll out a new line of Xeon processors on Tuesday, aimed at the midrange server market, with such worthies as IBM, Unisys, Hewlett-Packard and Dell in tow to roll out new or updated servers using the Xeons. Unlike the desktop market, where the effects of Moore's Law are a little softer than they used to be, processor speed and efficiency really does matter in the server environment, and all of those companies were quite eager to tout their uses of the new Intel chips right out of the gate. Over the next five years, it will probably be irresistible for CIOs to change over to a dual-core environment in their server rooms; it'll be so much more bang for the buck that it should be easy to justify as one way that server performance can be increased greatly at a moderate price. Tuesday's announcements were another checkpoint on the road to multiprocessor, multicore environments.
Another likely hook for efficiency and cost savings is virtualization, letting server admins run multiple-OS environments through easily managed partitioning. And this is an area where Advanced Micro Devices shows it isn't going to be left out of the chips equation. AMD has worked hard to get its Opterons recognized as more of a standard in the server sector and has been rewarded with a fairly good reception of late, especially from admins running Linux environments. Its competition with Intel extends to advancing virtualization at the processor and controller level, and the company showed off some of its work on its Pacifica virtualization platform this week. Of course, Intel has its own "Vanderpool" virtualization technology readying for rollout, starting this year on Itanium platforms and showing up in Xeons in 2006. Desktop users may be kind of la-di-da on the subject nowadays, but the processor wars aren't over yet -- not by a long shot.