Intel kills InfiniBand chip program

In a move that some experts say is a blow to the emerging InfiniBand market, Intel Corp. announced to partners on Monday that it has killed plans to produce silicon chips that would allow for high-speed server clustering and communication with other devices, such as storage arrays.

InfiniBand is a point-to-point channel architecture that allows I/O devices to communicate on a dedicated channel, which gives it tremendous scalability, reliability and performance. It is expected to someday replace today’s server Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) bus.

While there was no formal announcement by Intel, a spokeswoman for Intel acknowledged that the company no longer plans to produce the chips that would have gone into host controller adapters (HCA), which extend the I/O connectivity normally provided by the bus.

“It’s an image blow. There’s no question about that,” said Jamie Gruener, an analyst at The Yankee Group in Boston.

Intel was one of the original developers of the InfiniBand server I/O specification and is a founding member of the InfiniBand Trade Association.

Intel said it still plans to support InfiniBand, putting more of its engineering resources into developing PCI Express, formerly known as 3GIO, a serial high-speed, interchip connection for inside the server box.

“The interface to our chip set is a proprietary interface right now. PCI Express allows access via a standards-based architecture,” said Intel spokeswoman Diana Wilson, who expects the chip to ship sometime in 2004.

Gruener and others, who are still bullish on InfiniBand’s potential to speed-up the I/O stream, said that Intel’s pullout from HCA chips was strictly a business decision based on competition from a number of other better-funded InfiniBand product vendors and had nothing to do with the potential for the InfiniBand market.

Intel had been backing a single wire or 1x version of InfiniBand, but industry players such as IBM and Santa Clara, Calif.-based Mellanox Technologies Inc., which are better funded, are coming out with chips that support a 4x speed.

“They bet wrong on the 1x or 4x debate, and IBM and Mellanox bet correctly. Even the giants can’t do all things, and Intel finds itself vying against two very well-funded competitors that are far ahead of them technology-wise,” said Chuck Foley, CEO of Infinicon Systems in King of Prussia, Pa. Infinicon is one of dozens of companies that are planning to begin shipping InfiniBand products in the next year.

The InfiniBand I/O specification promises to widen the pipeline between clustered servers by replacing current 1G bit/sec. PCI-X and Gigabit Ethernet technologies with an external, switched serial I/O fabric that supports data rates of 2.5G bit/sec. (1x) to 10G bit/sec. (4X) and eventually 30G bit/sec. in each direction.

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