As various forms of software virtualization technology have been developed, some folks have looked at the problems software virtualization technology is attempting to address and have thought something different. They thought about the functions that applications and systems were executing, decomposed those functions into individual hardware actions and then went on to develop special purpose hardware. As I myopically scan the landscape, I see several areas that have been addressed and I bet you can come up with several more.
The mainframe suppliers, such as IBM, Hitachi and NEC, have added special instructions into the instruction set of their machines designed to assist the creation and management of virtual systems. Over time, they also added additional sets of registers, parallel paths to memory and I/O devices. Intel and AMD are only now addressing the very same issues. There newest processors have these additional features. What's surprising is that many in the media are acting as if those additions are breaking new ground even though they're just bringing industry standard microprocessors up to what mainframe processors have offered for decades.
Network Attached Processing
Suppliers, such as Azul Systems, created special-purpose processors that accelerated a portion of an application workflow. In the case of Azul, the hardware is designed to accelerate Java-based applications. I know of others that created special purpose database engines to accelerate that portion of an application's work.
The mainframe suppliers have offloaded host processors with special-purpose devices to accellerate terminal or client I/O, network I/O and storage I/O for decades. Suppliers, such as Xsigo, are now offering similar technology for industry standard systems.
What other forms of hardware virtualization have been brought to market by innovative suppliers?