Intel Corp.s decision to abandon its 2-year-old plan to produce Infiniband hardware will have a far-reaching effect on other companies efforts to bring the emerging high-speed I/O technology into the mainstream.
Although major manufacturers such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard Co. and Sun Microsystems Inc. have no plans to scrap their respective Infiniband-enabled rollouts set for this year, IT managers and industry analysts say Intels withdrawal has clouded the outlook for a technology International Data Corp. once predicted would appear in 80 percent of servers by 2005.
"Intels decision is concerning to me in that it could be a big setback," said Joe Gottron, CIO for Huntington Bancshares Inc., in Columbus, Ohio. Gottron said such a high-speed I/O will be needed to eliminate a data transfer bottleneck between servers in data centers. "I see Intel as a driver of new technology, as they have been with other standards, so its disappointing to hear theyve pulled back," he said.
Other IT professionals agree that Intels decision doesnt bode well.
"We talked to Intel a little more than a year ago about Infiniband, but I guess theyre not so sure about it anymore," said Urs Hölzle, a Google Inc. fellow who served as the search engine companys first vice president of engineering. "Its never good if Intel walks away, at least psychologically."
Intel, as a founding member of the Infiniband Trade Association in 1999, has played a critical role in helping design and develop the new fabric-based I/O technology, which early proponents said would one day replace commonly used bus-based I/O architectures, such as PCI (which was developed by Intel). Underscoring its commitment, Intel, of Santa Clara, Calif., had planned to manufacture three silicon products for Infiniband: a host channel adapter, an Infiniband switch and a target channel adapter.
Infiniband is a channel-based, switched-fabric architecture that provides a scalable performance range of 500MB per second to 6GB per second per link. But optimism over the technology has diminished recently with the emergence of a fast next-generation PCI, called PCI-X, and 10 Gigabit Ethernet, as well as improvements in storage connectivity technologies, such as Fibre Channel and iSCSI.
Intel officials announced last week that in a cost-cutting move, the chip maker has dropped its plans to produce those products. Instead, Intel will focus on its core business, including enterprise chip sets for servers and workstations.
While Intel officials insisted that the companys decision would not hurt Infiniband, its withdrawal will certainly result in Infiniband becoming, at best, only a small niche player, one analyst said.
"I regarded the announcement as Intel is killing Infiniband, but it didnt want to say it that way," said Peter Glaskowski, of In-Stat/MDR, in Sunnyvale, Calif.
However, officials at another founding member of the Infiniband trade group, IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., said the company remains committed to the I/O, as does Infiniband developer Voltaire Inc., of Bedford, Mass.
Voltaire officials said that while Intels pullout is unfortunate, companies creating Infiniband products were not planning to wait for the chip maker, which has fallen behind in developing Infiniband silicon.