Intel steps back from InfiniBand

All aboard the 3GIO bus

ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Intel Corp has stepped away from its commitment to ship InfiniBand interconnect chips by 2003 in favor of a renewed focus on developing the PCI Express internal PC bus replacement technology.

Although the Santa Clara California chip manufacturer still maintains that it is committed to InfiniBand development, it has decided to fast-track the development of PCI Express, also known as 3GIO, as its chosen successor to the current PCI bus.

It has long been recognized that the internal bus is now the main bottleneck in an Intel-based computer system, and the industry has been toying with a whole range of different solutions to the problem. Of these the most radical is InfiniBand. While a full InfiniBand implementation certainly addresses the internal PC Bus, it goes a great deal further. InfiniBand posits a switched architecture providing an any-to-any interconnect between the various components of the system - processors, storage and other peripherals - in a "System Area Network".

At the other end of the scale is PCI-X, a fairly straightforward bus upgrade fully backwards compatible with PCI and already implemented by some computer manufacturers on high-end systems. 3GIO lies between the two in terms of ambition and complexity. It is, however, firmly aimed at the internal bus and has none of the pretensions of InfiniBand as a systems networking technology.

According to Intel, the decision was based on the need to focus strategically on 3GIO technology together with the recognition that the InfiniBand market was becoming too competitive. Intel's track record as a canny operator in the silicon business makes it hard to accept its protestations at face value. It may be that Intel sees the cost and risk of development as outweighing the value of being first in the market. It already seems to have backed the wrong horse in developing the slower x1 version of the specification while most of its competitors opted for x4.

The impact of Intel's decision is hard to gauge. It leaves IBM Corp alone among the big fish committed to InfiniBand chip development along with a shoal of minnows like the InfiniBand specialist Mellanox Technologies Ltd. IBM is big enough to look after itself. Mellanox et al are committed to InfiniBand and have little option but to carry on regardless.

Intel's decision is certain to have an impact on the confidence of those vendors still evaluating the importance of the technology in the medium term.

InfiniBand is in a delicate position at the moment with a great deal of hype around it, but still waiting for the first serious implementations to arrive. There has been a recent spate of announcements from companies jumping on the InfiniBand-wagon, such as the one last month from Overland Data Inc.

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