Intel to Open Center for Joint Chipset Development

Intel Corp. and nine high-end server vendors plan to open the Intel Enterprise Technology Center (ETC) in DuPont, Wash., this month. The ETC is designed to grant members of this conglomeration of hardware manufacturers early access to Intel’s technology during the course of development.

Intel Corp. and nine high-end server vendors plan to open the Intel Enterprise Technology Center (ETC) in DuPont, Wash., this month. The ETC is designed to grant members of this conglomeration of hardware manufacturers early access to Intel’s technology during the course of development.

At the center, Intel will rent space to OEMs, where they can work together to build road maps for high-end servers based on the Intel architecture.

"Intel can be out of touch with what actual customers need, and its OEMs are in a better position to know what end users want," says Rob Enderle, senior analyst with Giga Information Group Inc. (www.gigaweb.com).

One of the chief reasons for the establishment of the center is to eliminate this problem, says Gerry Buddleman, director of Intel’s ETC.

"The idea is to tap into the experience and knowledge of our OEMs to better build what their customers need," he says.

To achieve that end, the ETC will develop products and technologies through a three phase structure.

The first phase will operate similarly to a think tank, where vendors come together around a topic -- usually a product or technology -- to figure out what the biggest problems are and what is missing, and to brainstorm on ways the topic can be improved.

"Some of the first issues to be addressed will be problems that the vendors face collectively," says David Houseman, vice president of advanced technology at Unisys Corp. (www.unisys.com), a participant in the ETC. "These will likely include reliability, availability, scaling, cooling, power supplies, partitioning and hot-redundancy."

The second phase is to create a joint specification for the particular product or technology, in other words the solutions to the problems discussed in the think tank phase.

The third phase entails developing the output of the specification phase and building a product or technology from it.

Intel will be closely involved with the OEMs throughout the first two phases. Its involvement in the third phase will be minimal.

"If OEMs want to take the technology that’s been developed back to Ashtabula, Ohio, and use it from there, that’s fine with us," Intel’s Buddleman says.

Unisys’ Houseman expects that when technologies reach the third phase, OEMs will enter agreements and create partnerships with each other, separate from existing agreements with Intel.

"We’re not trying to remove any company’s differential competitive edge," Intel’s Buddleman says. "We still expect vendors to add value and sell systems that compete with each other."

Participating OEMs will gain early access to Intel’s technology, could have influence over designs and, most importantly, will have the ability to get to market earlier with the technology because of being involved with the primary stages of the process.

The vendors that have publicly agreed to participate include Bull Corp. (www.bull.com), Data General Corp. (www.dg.com), Fujitsu America Inc. (www.fcpa.com), Hitachi Computer Products America Inc. (www.hicam.hitachi.com), ICL (www.icl.com), NEC Computer Systems Division (www.nec-computers.com), Sequent Computer Systems Inc. (www.sequent.com), Siemens Corp. (www.siemens.com) and Unisys.

Missing from the list of participants are some of Intel's most prominent OEM partners: Compaq Computer Corp., IBM Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell Computer Corp. Although future systems from these vendors probably will include results from the work done at the ETC, at this time Intel chose to focus the center on the companies that have traditionally shipped Intel-based standard high volume servers (SHVs).

"The center will provide to Intel, which really doesn’t have broad and deep systems experience, the industry’s experience with SHVs," Unisys’ Houseman says. "The vendors that are involved have built high-end machines for years and really have something to contribute."

Although the ETC is opening as the industry eagerly awaits Intel’s Merced processor, the effect the center will have on the development of a specific chipset won’t be evident until the version known as McKinley is released.

Merced, however, has benefited from a prelude program to the ETC, dubbed Rainier, in which Hitachi, NEC and Siemens worked with Intel for three years. Intel is developing a chipset solution based on this work, which will be available to the industry concurrent with the Merced processor release. In turn, all three OEMs are developing Merced-based high-end enterprise servers.

"Rainier was a prototype for the ETC and serves as existing proof that multiple competing companies can work together toward a common goal," Intel’s Buddleman says.