I have to hand it to Intel. The company that brought us the brilliant marketing of Intel Inside (remember the stuffed guy in a bunny suit?) says Facebook has chosen its Xeon chips to power the social network. But because Intel is aware that server chips are commodities, the chip maker is also working directly with Facebook, tweaking settings to really make those dual- and quad-core chips roar in the hopes that they will continue to power the servers running Web 2.0 sites and compute clouds.
Despite this announcement and this week’s partnership to create a cloud testbed with HP and Yahoo, Intel must be sweating. The premise of the rise in cloud computing is that hardware will no longer matter to most people. Even during interviews with representatives from Yahoo, HP and Intel to talk about the test bed, Prabhakar Raghavan, head of Yahoo Research, explained that the clouds were more than “just the nuts and bolts of hardware,” a point Intel’s Andrew Chen was quick to downplay.
So Intel needs to make sure IT buyers know and love its chips. Architectures that are not x86, such as Sun’s SPARC or IBM’s Cell, made up 46 percent of the server market in the first quarter of the year, according to data from IDC — and those specialty chips’ share of the server market is rising. To be sure, servers using x86 chips from Intel or AMD accounted for $7 billion worth of sales in the first quarter of the year, but growth is slowing, partly due to success with virtualization. So look for similar high-profile announcements from Intel touting not just the chips, but the company’s ability to make those chips work even better.