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IDF 2014 Day 1 Recap

In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m at Intel Developer Forum (IDF) 2014 this week in San Francisco. Here’s a quick recap of day 1 (I should have published this last night—sorry for not getting it out sooner).

Day 1 Keynote

Here’s a liveblog of the IDF 2014 day 1 keynote.

The IDF keynotes are always a bit interesting for me. Intel has a very large consumer presence: PCs, ultrabooks, tablets, phones, 2-in-1/convertibles, all-in-1 devices. Naturally, this is a big part of the keynote. I don’t track or get involved in the consumer space; my focus is on the data center. It is kind of fun to see all the stuff going on in the consumer space, though. There were no major data center-centric announcements yesterday (day 1), but I suspect there will be some today (day 2) in a mega-session with Diane Bryant (SVP and GM of the Data Center Group at Intel). I’ll be liveblogging that mega-session, so stay tuned for details.

Technical Sessions

I was able to hit two technical sessions yesterday and liveblogged both of them:

Both were good sessions. The first one, on virtualizing the network, did highlight an important development regarding hardware offloads for Geneve, the next-generation network overlay encapsulation protocol. Intel announced yesterday that the new XL710 network adapters (which are 40Gbps adapters) will support Geneve hardware offloads. This is the first hardware offload for Geneve of which I am aware, and it signals increased support for Geneve. (The XL710 also supports offloads for VXLAN and NVGRE.) That’s cool.

The second session was more of an introductory session than anything else, but was useful nevertheless. I was already familiar with all the concepts discussed regarding Docker and containers and virtualization, but I did pick up a few useful analogies from the speaker, Nick Weaver. Nick didn’t share anything specific to containers with regard to work Intel might be doing, but as I was thinking about this after the session I wondered if Intel might do some work around enabling containers to use the x86 privilege rings/protection rings. This would improve container security and move Linux containers closer to the Bromium “microvisor” architecture. Nick was also bullish on Intel SGX, something I’m going to have to explore in a bit more detail (I don’t know anything about SGX yet).

Coffee Chats

One of the nice things about attending IDF is that the Intel folks do a great job of connecting influencers (bloggers, press, analysts) with key folks within Intel to discuss announcements, trends, etc. This year, this took the form of “coffee chats”–informal discussions that were, sadly, lacking coffee.

In any case, the discussions wandered around a bit (as these sorts of things are wont to do). Here are a few thoughts that I gleaned from the discussions or that resulted from the discussions:

  • Intel does have/is working with very large customers on customized silicon, typically these are tweaks to create a custom SKU (like more cores, higher frequencies, different power envelope, etc.). This is interesting, but obviously applicable only to the largest of customers given the cost involved.

  • Intel is working with a few other companies (Dell, Emerson, and HP) on a hardware API specification; early work on the API can be found here.

  • Intel is pushing forward with the idea of rack-scale architecture (RSA); this is something I blogged about last year (see this post). There’s another RSA-related session on Thursday that I’m hoping to be able to attend so I can provide more information. I’m on the fence about RSA; I still don’t see a compelling reason why users/consumers/operators should switch to RSA instead of buying servers. I may publish something else specific about RSA later; I still need to have some discussions with the Intel engineers on the floor and see if I’m missing something.

  • The networking-focused Fulcrum assets that Intel purchased a few years ago are continuing to be leveraged in a variety of ways, some of which are also related to the rack-scale architecture efforts. Personally, I’m less interested in how Intel is using the Fulcrum stuff in RSA, and more interested in work Intel might be doing around making it easier for Linux vendors to “hook into” Intel-based hardware platforms for the purpose of building disaggregated network operating systems. You may already know that I’m pretty bullish on Cumulus Linux, but Cumulus right now is heavily tied to the Broadcom chipsets, and—according to discussions I’ve had with Cumulus—the effort to port over to Intel’s Fulcrum chips is not insignificant. Any work that Intel can do to make that easier/faster/cheaper is all positive in my book. It would be great to see Intel release a DPDK equivalent that is focused on integration into the switching chipsets in their Open Networking Platform (ONP) switch reference architecture (see this post from last year).

Closing Thoughts

Clearly, there’s a lot going on within Intel, as the company works hard—and is being reasonably successful—to differentiate hardware in an environment where abstraction layers like hypervisors and cloud management platforms are trying to homogenize everything. The work that Intel has done (in conjunction with HyTrust) on geofencing is nice and is, I think, an indicator of ways that Intel can continue to innovate beyond just more cores, more efficiency, and faster clock speeds (not that there’s anything wrong with those!).

Stay tuned for more liveblogs from IDF 2014, and I’ll post a day 2 recap as well. Thanks for reading!

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