Intel Cans Infiniband Plans

In a cost-saving move, the chip maker drops plans to produce silicon products for Infiniband, marking a setback for proponents seeking to spur adoption of the technology in data centers.

In a cost-saving move, Intel Corp. has dropped plans to produce silicon products for Infiniband, a new high-speed interconnect, marking a setback for proponents seeking to spur adoption of the technology in data centers.

Intel has been one of the most prominent advocates of Infiniband, a new I/O architecture designed to boost server-to-server connections, as well as server connections to other systems, such as storage and networking devices.

As a founding member of the Infiniband Trade Association in 1999, Intel has played a critical role in helping design and develop the new fabric-based I/O, which early proponents contended would one day replace commonly used bus-based I/O architectures, such as PCI.

Underscoring its commitment, Intel two years ago released Infiniband software development tools and announced plans to manufacture three silicon products for Infiniband: a host channel adapter, an Infiniband switch and target channel adapter.

With Infiniband-enabled servers targeted for volume sales starting in 2003, Intel had already begun producing and sampling early versions of its Infiniband products.

But optimism over Infiniband 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. As a result, Infiniband has seen its once-impressive performance edge quickly eroded by competitive I/Os.

Specifically, Infiniband is a channel-based, switched-fabric architecture that provides a scalable performance range of 500MB per second to 6GB per second per link.

Those numbers were impressive compared with PCI, introduced in the early 90s, which initially ran at 133MB per second. But PCIs performance has since been revved up, with the latest PCI-X standard offering 500MB-per-second speed, and a next-generation PCI-X 2.0 aiming to boost bandwidth to 4.3GB per second.

Intel dismissed suggestions that dampened hopes for Infiniband played a role in its decision. Instead, a company spokesman said the growth of Infiniband vendors eliminated the need for Intel to participate in producing silicon, adding that Intel would instead focus on providing Infiniband-compatible chip sets.

"We are still a strong believer in Infiniband," said Daven Oswalt, a spokesman for Intel, based on Santa Clara, Calif. "Intel believes that the Infiniband ecosystem is maturing, with several vendors planning to supply competitive products. We are focusing on our core business, including enterprise chip sets for servers and workstations."

Intels decision to eliminate the Infiniband product lines marks its latest effort to rein in operating costs. In October, after reporting a 96 percent drop in quarterly earnings from a year earlier, Intel shut down its Connected Products Division--which made MP3 players, digital cameras and PC-enhanced toys. In recent months, Intel has also trimmed its work force and put construction plans on hold to reduce expenses.

Its unclear what impact Intels reduced role in advocating Infiniband will have on the overall adoption rate for the new technology, which is supported by many of the high-tech industrys leading companies, including Dell Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM, Microsoft Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc.

Last year, market research firm International Data Corp. predicted that by 2004, 80 percent of all server shipments would be Infiniband-enabled, but the continuing slump in IT spending and the rapid emergence of PCI-X are widely seen to have darkened the once bright outlook.

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