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Intel to sell servers for voice-powered Web sites

The chip giant will sell new servers that will allow consumers to retrieve stock quotes, weather updates or pricing information from Web sites using just a phone.

Intel will sell new servers that will allow consumers to retrieve stock quotes, weather updates or pricing information from Web sites using just a phone.

The new servers, part of the NetStructure line of server appliances, essentially simplify and improve how Web sites can be navigated by verbal commands rather than typed commands. With this sort of technology, consumers can ask for technical assistance from support desks through cell phones, and a computer with an automated human voice will spit back the answer.

Technically, Intel is selling a server "blade," a computer board populated with processors and the necessary software that slides into an existing server. The blade, however, functions like an ordinary server appliance.

"Think of it as voice navigation of the Internet," said John Miner, vice president and general manager of Intel's communications products group. "You need to reach all customers, not just those using visual access devices."

Potential markets include automotive applications, where voice commands are the only practical and safe way to operate a device.

Along with the hardware, Intel will also market network design and other consulting services. Seven months ago, the company quietly created a professional services organization designed to promote the NetStructure line. The strategy mirrors larger consulting build-ups at, among others, Sun.

"We have a set of product services that go with all of our NetStructure servers," said Miner.

Equipment for creating voice-enabled web sites are already available. Tellme and Telera, for example, already use voice-activated servers from Intel, noted Howard Bubb, a vice president in the Communications Product Group. One of the goals with the new servers is to take the pain out of adopting voice activation by condensing all, or most, of the necessary technology into a prepackaged server.

A dual processor Voice Portal Platform server, for instance, can converse with up to a 100 consumer simultaneously and understand thousands of words. Three to four years ago, voice-activated servers could only handle roughly 24 callers and understand 20 words.

Installing a dedicated server for voice traffic also eases the burden on centralized servers, which are getting swamped by increasing traffic demands.

"The Internet isn't well planned," said Miner.

While Intel will sell the servers to corporations, a major target audience will be application service providers and hosting companies. "It is so much more economical to share these resources than having every corporation own its own gear," said Bubb.

One of the key elements of the new servers is software from Dialogic that improves how data is shuttled between a digital signal processor and the main processor inside the server, said Bubb. Intel acquired Dialogic last year. Bubb was the former CEO.

Since 1998, Intel has been aggressively trying to expand its operations beyond PC processors. Last spring, for example, the company created an online hosting service. Intel has spent over $6 billion and bought more than 20 companies in the process.

While the results have been mixed so far, the NetStructure line seems to be one of the more successful efforts. Intel has already released roughly 30 products and services under the brand, which emerged in February.