Intel adapts to Ethernet

When people think of Intel Corp., they often think of the PC side of things, said Intel’s North American distribution sales manager in Toronto, David Allen.

“But our vision is a billion connected PCs around the world,” he said. “So we understand, even more so in the last three years, the importance of the connection side of it. We’re doing everything we can to drive networking, to make networking ubiquitous, to make it everywhere.”

Intel’s latest announcement of a new family of fast Ethernet adapters and LAN-on-Motherboard solutions, the Intel EtherExpress PRO/100 adapter family, is part of this goal of Intel’s, according to Allen.

The family is based on Intel’s Intelligent Interface Technology, which aims to deliver advanced management and bandwidth control for networks.

“In terms of Intelligent Interface, what it fundamentally means is there’s microcode in the adapters that will optimize, depending on the operating system you’re using,” he said. “So if a new version of NT comes out, the code will be able to be optimized and work a little bit differently on that as opposed to NetWare or a Unix-based operating system, so that’s more the intelligent nature of the operating system.”

Allen stressed that this new family is completely backward-compatible. The latest generation is based on the 82559 Fast Ethernet Controller, and “it’s backward-compatible going back two full generations — to the 82557 from four years ago.

“It’s quite a good story on the compatibility side,” he said.

The family has full support for SNMP and the Desktop Management Interface 2.0 specification. It also has support for the Wired for Management baseline (WFM) 2.0 specification, including support for new features such as Boot Integrity Services.

“Wired for Management is basically an initiative Intel kicked off about two years ago, with the whole boost being to lower the total cost of ownership in PCs by increasing the manageability of them — so in other words, components that are intelligent enough to be able to be managed by a central software console,” he said.

According to Mark Fabbi, an analyst with Gartner Group Canada Inc. in Mississauga, Ont., this indicates Intel’s direction to provide a more manageable desktop.

“When you look at the trends in the business toward more intelligent networks, for both Intel and 3Com to play into that market place, they have to make the desktop the active component, as opposed to what Nortel and Cisco are doing — they’re making the network the active component,” Fabbi said. “So this is a way for the NIC manufacturers to provide some differentiation and make some inroads along those lines.”

As for Boot Integrity Services, it is aimed at providing LAN administrators with a more secure way to manage systems remotely by providing authentication services when the system is accessed.

Also included on the family’s manageability side is Intel’s LANDesk Client Manager, a desktop application and console to manage the whole desktop environment, including Wake on LAN, Alert on LAN and system alerts.

Gartner Group’s Fabbi said the two primary vendors in this space are Intel and 3Com.

“They’re doing a fair bit of leap-frogging of each other in terms of introducing new technologies, though they do have a somewhat different approach on how to optimize the interface.”

He said Intel is fairly processor-oriented, so its definition of a smart NIC is one that has a processor on it, whereas 3Com adds features through hardware assist.

“So it doesn’t actually have a processor on-board, but it will have some dedicated circuitry to enhance the performance,” he said.

“Their approaches are somewhat different based on different philosophies.”

He said he sees the competition between the two being more focused on adding new features and functionality now rather than the lowest price, which it used to be more focused on.

“We’re seeing a bit more stability and maturity in the market place — it’s a market that is less price-sensitive but more feature-sensitive.”

The specific products in the family ( include the Intel PRO/100+ Management Adapter, listing at US$99, the Intel PRO/100+ Server Adapter, listing at US$119, the Intel PRO/100 Mobile Cardbus II at US$174 and the Intel PRO/100 Mobile LAN+Modem56 CardBus II at US$349.

Intel of Canada Ltd., with offices in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver, is at 1-800-628-8686.

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