In the world of processors, attention seems firmly focused on the fast-paced desktop and mobile markets. But that doesn't mean that there's nothing going on in server-land. Virtualisation extensions and multi-core support are now standard, with new architectures and fabrication technologies being implemented that will see the current generation of quad-core chips assigned to the history books in months rather than years.
As far as the players are concerned, the same companies that dominate the desktop market — Intel and AMD — also lead the server charge. Similarly, they've been playing the same game of leap-frog as new architectures and technologies have given first one and then the other a short-term advantage. Just a couple of years ago, for example, AMD appeared to take an unshakeable hold on the server market with its dual-core Opterons which were widely seen as technically superior to Intel's first attempts in this direction. However, that lead was soon lost as dual-core products based on Intel's quickly revamped Core micro-architecture started to ship. Since then, Intel has also beaten its rival to quad-core, leaving it with what looks like a winning hand at present.
That could change, with both chip-makers expected to introduce new processors this year. Also, each has published roadmaps showing further developments to 2010 and beyond. Increasing the number of processor cores is seen as the way ahead, together with architecture changes and other tweaks to allow this to happen.
It's important to note that, although Intel and AMD dominate the desktop processor market, they don't have it all their own way in the server space. Companies like IBM and Sun continue to chip away (sic) at that duopoly, with limited success.
So let's examine who's doing what, and what's coming up as the different vendors slug it out in the server processor ring.