How Intel and AMD hope to win the cloud security game • The Register

Analysis As cloud service providers increasingly turn to x86 architecture alternatives, Intel and AMD are trying to find ways to win or retain market favor – and that includes integrating security features and formation of services and partnerships.

Both semiconductor giants announced cloud security initiatives this week. At the Intel Vision event on Wednesday, Intel unveiled its Amber Project remote verification service for cloud providers, among others. The day before, Google Cloud detailed a collaboration with AMD to strengthen the security of the chip designer’s Epyc processors.

The duel efforts both revolve around confidential computing, which aims to protect sensitive data by encrypting it in memory using so-called trusted hardware execution environments, also known as secure enclaves, which are provided by the latest server chips from Intel and AMD. This technology is backed by industry players, including Arm, which also has confidential computing in its architecture.

At the heart of confidential computing is the desire to protect sensitive data and code not only from other software and users on a cloud server, but also from machine administrators. It is aimed at customers who want to process information offsite and be assured that even a dishonest insider, or a compromised or malicious hypervisor or system software component, in the remote data center cannot interfere with or eavesdrop on that data.

While Intel has always been the primary processor maker for cloud providers, the company’s manufacturing missteps have allowed AMD to steal market share and double your cloud business for several quarters with faster, higher core count processors made by TSMC.

Now that Intel is striving to regain technology leadership under an ambitious comeback plan, the two rivals face a threat in the form of cloud providers adopting alternative chip architectures, primarily Arm, to deliver faster and more efficient services.

New “trust-as-a-service” from Intel

It is in this context that Intel on Wednesday announced Project Amber, a software-as-a-service offering that acts as an independent authority to remotely verify the reliability of a confidential computing environment in cloud and edge infrastructures.

Intel plans to offer Project Amber as a multi-cloud service that supports multiple types of secure enclaves accessible from bare-metal containers, virtual machines, and containers within virtual machines.

The initial release will only support secure enclaves protected by the Intel Software Guard Extensions (SGX) feature, natch, which debuted in mainstream Xeon processors last year with the launch of Ice Lake server chips. ‘Intel, very delayed. The chipmaker said it hopes to expand coverage to enclaves provided by other companies in the future.

Intel plans to build a software ecosystem around the service, saying its staff is working with ISVs to build services in addition to Project Amber, which will be managed by software tools and APIs.

In Wednesday’s Intel Vision keynote, Intel CTO Greg Lavender called Project Amber a “trust-as-a-service solution” and said it is building trusted environments through attestation process so users can feel safe running “sensitive and mission-critical data” in the cloud.

“In this architecture, the attestation authority is no longer tied to the infrastructure provider. This decoupling helps provide objectivity and independence to improve confidence assurance for users and application developers,” said Lavender, who leads Intel’s software organization.

Intel is expected to launch a pilot project for Project Amber with select customers later this year. A spokesperson declined to provide details on how it plans to monetize Project Amber, but with its SaaS focus, we believe it could join the chipmaker’s expanding portfolio of commercial software products, which it says CEO Pat Gelsinger, will make Intel more competitive.

Lavender said Intel is working to make it easier for businesses to use Intel SGX with an open source project called grass which allows developers to run unmodified Linux applications in SGX enclaves. This is important because the feature has historically required developers to modify application code to use SGX, which has created barriers to wider industry adoption.

“Gramine provides a ‘push button’ method to easily protect applications and data. This means a faster, more secure and more scalable end-to-end security solution with minimal effort,” said Lavender.

AMD strengthens its collaboration with Google Cloud

While Intel introduced SGX in 2013, AMD beat its rival to the data center market with the first mainstream server processors to integrate confidential computing capabilities with the launch of its Epyc family in 2017. AMD then made things more viable for cloud providers by dramatically increasing the number of encryption keys in the second generation of Epyc in 2019.

The fact that AMD was the only chip designer at the time with confidential computing capabilities in consumer server processors was one of the main reasons Google Cloud ended up choosing AMD over Intel to power its product Confidential Virtual Machines, launched in 2020.

Google Cloud said ease of use and the impact on low performance were two other reasons it chose AMD’s Secure Encryption Virtualization (SEV), the core feature enabling confidential computing capabilities in Epyc. Despite Intel’s SGX expansion into mainstream Xeon processors in 2021, Google Cloud has yet to adopt SGX for new products in its confidential computing portfolio.

Instead, the cloud provider deepened its partnership with AMD through a thorough and collaborative security review of Epyc’s security capabilities, which was announced tuesday. The review allowed the chip designer to identify and fix vulnerabilities in the secure coprocessor that enables SEV and other confidential computing features in Epyc chips.

The results of this technical review are hereand it revealed 19 security flaws, which were fixed by AMD in patches released over the past few months.

The audit is a big deal because it required AMD to give Google Cloud security teams access to the chip designer’s proprietary firmware and hardware components so that researchers could examine every detail of the device’s implementation. AMD and design custom tests.

After all, there have been plenty of times independent researchers have discovered flaws in Intel SGX and AMD SEV on their own, so AMD has an incentive to work with a cloud provider that buys a substantial amount of its processors.

Google Cloud conducted the review as it sought to expand its confidential computing portfolio, and the cloud provider said the audit gave it confidence that these products meet a “high security bar”. because its confidential virtual machines are now “protected against a wide range of attacks”. .”

“Ultimately, we all benefit from a secure ecosystem that organizations rely on for their technology needs and that is why we greatly appreciate our strong collaboration with AMD in these efforts,” said Royal Hansen, Head of Security. engineering at Google.

While Intel has yet to conquer Google Cloud with SGX, the semiconductor giant’s confidential computing capabilities have been adopted by Microsoft Azure and IBM, among the smallest infrastructure providers. Azure and IBM also purchased competing features from AMD.

With a research firm estimating the confidential computing market reach $54 billion by 2026, the latest efforts from Intel and AMD underscore how both companies see the underlying technology as an important way to curry favor with cloud providers in the future. And they are no doubt preparing for other chip vendors to enter the fray with their own capabilities. ®

Boot Note

Intel has introduced SGX into the Xeon E processors for entry-level servers in 2017, but they were only designed for single-socket servers and were not part of the consumer Xeon Scalable line.

About Jon Moses

Check Also

Development of a robust technique for the transmission of synchronized data in real time from a Magnetic Observatory to an INTERMAGNET GIN

Since internet availability at PowerLine is very limited due to its remote location from a …