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Intel repositions for cloud computing, mobile devices

Storage, video, sensors and big data are areas where Intel hopes it can make its mark in cloud computing.

SAN FRANCISCO -- IT shops accustomed to Intel inside may start to see the company in a new light as the chipmaker seeks a place in a post-Wintel world. It has looked to the cloud and at least one other major trend -- the smartphone.

In the fourth quarter of 2010, smartphone shipments hit 100 million units, outpacing PC shipments for the first time. So the old paradigm, and Intel's old standby, of powerful laptops and desktops driving the market doesn't make as much sense as new mobile and cloud computing models take shape.

But Intel could be stuck psychologically in the PC era. At the Intel Developer Forum here this week, CEO Paul Otellini described a hub device that all other devices will communicate with. It will have a central role in securing and authorizing other devices, namely tablets and smartphones, he said.

Even in areas where Intel has struggled to gain a foothold, such as smartphones, the company claims it benefits from the overall growth of that sector. Intel estimates that for every 660 smartphones shipped, a new server deployment is required to support the device. Similarly, a new server deployment is needed for every 110 tablets sold into the market.

"It's a very device-centric story," said Matthew Eastwood, an analyst at IDC, Framingham, Mass. "Users should be able to pick up any device, anywhere, and get access to whatever they need; it can't be about a single device or platform."

Meanwhile, Stephen Pawlowski, Intel senior fellow and CTO of the company's data center group said cloud was a "huge infrastructure play" for Intel.

He listed several cloud-related trends that should drive Intel's growth, during a packed session on Intel's technology vision for cloud computing.

Storage capacity in support of all the data moving to the cloud is expected to grow 670% from 2009 to 2014, according to IDC.

The surge in video traffic and sensor technology -- GPS, accelerometers, compasses, gyros -- also demands enormous processing power. And big data analytics is a trend Intel will bank on to drive its business.

"Future computing will be dominated by continuous ingestion, integration and analytics of growing and live data," Pawlowski said.

Users should be able to pick up any device, anywhere, and get access to whatever they need.

Matthew Eastwood, analyst, IDC

Intel also intends to have a more direct impact on how cloud computing systems will work in the future. Pawlowski said the chipmaker has worked on building algorithms into chips that would help match a workload to the right machine, an idea known as processor affinity. He said he could envision a hypervisor at the system level that would know information about instruction sets. "For example, this memory belongs to this process, so keep the data close to the core running this process," said Pawlowski.

Gordon Haff, senior cloud strategist at Red Hat, said this capability would let users shut down cores that were not active to save power and also route around failures. "More intelligence at the system level is a good thing," Haff said.

As far as creating a hypervisor, Pawlowski said there was nothing he could talk about today.

He said Intel has explored how cloud applications could exploit new NVM technologies such as Restive Memory to overcome memory scaling issues: "Not everything has to be done at the CPU." There are energy savings to be had in keeping data in memory, he said.

Resource scheduling, task placement and automated tools for measurement and quality of usage are going to be "extremely important" to the success of cloud computing, Pawlowski said, as will automated tools for software upgrades and the ability to check code correctness in operation.

Jo Maitland is the Senior Executive Editor of Contact her at [email protected].

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