The Enterprise Server Impact Of Intel/AMD Settlement Remains To Be Seen

James Staten

As an infrastructure and operations professional, it’s hard not to like the terms of the settlement between Intel and AMD but the implications for your buying strategy and roadmap aren’t that clear yet. The rules of engagement spelled out in the Intel 8K make it clear that server vendors are free to select the CPUs that best fit their design goals and to carry as wide a portfolio of AMD-based servers as they feel the market demands. Server vendors can also market AMD to their heart’s content without fear of retribution from Intel (if the accusations from the past are true — something Intel isn’t admitting through this settlement). It also means that the two companies can stop aiming so many legal weapons at each other and redirect those funds and management brain cells to accelerating innovation. The $1.25B influx to AMD will be a very welcome shot in the R&D arm, too.
That’s all goodness that may lead to greater adoption of AMD-based servers in the future by enterprises. It doesn’t mean we can expect equivalency in performance or purpose between them, though. All it does is spell out the rules of engagement for fair play.

It also doesn’t ensure full compatibility between AMD and Intel processors and this is where one question in particular lies unanswered.

According to the 8K, Section 2.3 on Technical impairments:
“Intel shall not include any Artificial Performance Impairment in any Intel product…mean[ing] an affirmative engineering or design action by Intel (but not a failure to act) that (i) degrades the performance or operation of a Specified AMD product, (ii) is not a consequence of an Intel Product Benefit and (iii) is made intentionally to degrade the performance or operation of a Specified AMD Product. For purposes of this Section 2.3, “Product Benefit” shall mean any benefit, advantage, or improvement in terms of performance, operation, price, cost, manufacturability, reliability, compatibility, or ability to operate or enhance the operation of another product.”

The key word here is “compatibility.” Case in point: virtualization live migration. Intel VT, the set of instruction sets in the Xeon CPU family that helps with the performance of virtual infrastructures and enables live migrations from server to server are not compatible with AMD-V technologies that do the same thing (roughly). What this means today is that with Intel’s implementation you can’t live migrate from an Intel-based server to an AMD-based server. AMD-V actually lets you migrate from AMD to Intel, but you can’t move back. As a result of this you are probably building out your server virtualization pool today purely with Intel-based servers.

So here’s the question: “Is the incompatibility of virtual infrastructure implementations an Artificial Performance Impairment or simply different approaches to delivering Product Benefit?”

The Intel 8K then states:
“In no circumstances shall this Section 2.3 impose or be construed to impose any obligation on
Intel to (i) take any act that would provide a Product Benefit to any AMD or other non-Intel product,
either when such AMD or non-Intel product is used alone or in combination with any other product, (ii)optimize any products for Specified AMD Products, or (iii) provide any technical information, documents, or know how to AMD.”

Hmm. This seems to state that Intel is under no obligation to address this particular example if the resolution provides a Product Benefit to AMD. And it further states in that same “(i)” that such Product Benefit includes cases of the products being used in combination – which describes the case of Intel and AMD servers in a shared virtual pool. It further states that Intel doesn’t have to provide any technical information, documents or know how to AMD through which they could take the initiative themselves to solve this problem.

If AMD can’t penetrate any enterprise’s virtual server pool because the feature of live migration doesn’t work across server families, that would seem to me to be a serious Artificial Market Impairment. But does that fit the terms of the settlement that state Artificial Performance Impairment must be proven? Hmm.

This is just one example of the types of questions and scenarios Intel and AMD’s lawyers and technical experts will have to apply to this agreement. And answers to these types of questions will be imperative for enterprises to understand as they can have significant impacts on buying behavior. 

Until these types of scenarios are played out the impact of this settlement on enterprise buyers remains unsettled.

By James Staten

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