August 30, 1999 11:10 AM PDT

End to server war coming tomorrow

The computing industry's biggest players will announce a resolution to a server design battle tomorrow, resolving a months-long struggle over a key part of future high-end computers.

The disagreement pitted Intel, Sun Microsystems, and Dell Computer on one side against Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Compaq Computer on the other. The new specification, with the working name of "system I/O," will be announced at a news conference tomorrow, sources familiar with the negotiations said.

The new standard is expected by the end 1999, with computers using it scheduled to be available by the end of 2001.

The dispute had been holding hostage the future design of many components of next-generation servers and had divided Intel and some of its biggest customers. Until the resolution, two different standards were competing for the resources of those who made the computers themselves, the network cards and other components that plug into them, and the supporting chips that are the computers' nervous system.

The Intel camp favored a standard called Next-Generation Input/Output, or NGIO. HP, IBM, and Compaq initiated Future I/O, and rounded up support from 3Com, Adaptec, and Cisco. The specifications govern how equipment such as network cards or disk systems plug into the servers.

Although it's not yet clear which companies will be in charge of the new standard, Intel and IBM will serve as co-chairman of the committee, a source said. Each company in the committee will get one vote--a resolution of a key governance issue, the source said.

The resolution addresses concerns from Intel that the standard would only work in expensive machines, not the lower-priced computers that Intel sells in such large quantities, sources said. In addition, the new standard has room for server makers to extend it to accommodate more proprietary technology that make their products stand out from the pack.

The standard will merge Future I/O with a high-speed version of NGIO, called "fat pipes," which had been championed by Sun. The initial version of the standard will allow data to be transferred at 2.5 gigabits per second, said a source familiar with the technology.

Both the Future I/O and NGIO standards will be scrapped to make way for the new standard, sources said. It's not yet clear how the resolution will affect planned meetings of each group that were scheduled for September.

The new standard is timed to arrive in time for "McKinley," the second in Intel's line of high-end 64-bit processors. However, the standard also will work in machines built around lower-end 32-bit Intel chips, which still are expected to ship in large quantities for years.

The debate was resolved in final votes over the weekend, a source said.

 

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