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What are multi-core processors?

What are multi-core processors? Where can I get them? How do they work with virtualization?

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Multi core processors are integrated circuits to which two or more processors have been attached for enhanced performance, reduced power consumption and more efficient simultaneous processing of multiple tasks. Intel has already delivered chips that support virtualization natively, and AMD will deliver them later in the year. Essentially, the chip takes on some of the burden of running virtualization, making it possible for virtualization software to accomplish two important things:

  • run a lighter-weight piece of software, freeing up more processing power for the hosted operating systems; and
  • run unmodified operating systems. (Previous virtualization required special versions of the operating systems that were modified to integrate with the virtualization software.

With the new chips providing much of the virtualization capability, it is in the reach of a small business to have a high-performance virtualized machine (or indeed, machines). It is no longer necessary to have a four- or eight-way machine to host multiple operating systems, each in its own container; with the new chips, virtualization can be achieved with a single- or dual-processor machine. In the past, if you wanted to run only Linux instances on the virtualized machine, you didn't need to run modified operating systems. Linux has had specially modified versions available for a while that would integrate into a Xen infrastructure.

What's exciting about the ability to run unmodified operating systems is that it opens up the possibility of running Windows instances alongside of Linux instances -- without requiring Microsoft to make available a modified version of Windows tuned for free, open source Xen.

This was first published in May 2006

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