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Server dispute settled, but products coming later

Seven newly allied computing companies announce a new server design standard today, but the new standard will arrive many months later than the companies had hoped.

Seven newly allied computing companies announced a new server design standard today, but the new standard will arrive many months later than the companies had hoped.

As reported yesterday, the backing of a unified standard called System I/O heals a rift that had pitted Intel, Dell Computer, and Sun Microsystems against IBM, HP, and Compaq Computer. The standard, a critical part of future design of high-performance computers, governs how components such as network cards plug into servers and how the servers connect to each other.

The new standard itself will arrive by the end of the year, and the first systems shipping with the new architecture will arrive in late 2001, executives said today as they announced the new agreement.

But the companies had planned for new servers to be able to take advantage of the design standard much sooner. The Intel camp hoped for products using its standard to appear in products in 2000. The IBM, HP, and Compaq group hoped for its first products to arrive in the first quarter of 2001.

"We had been targeting a slightly earlier time frame," said Intel's Tom Macdonald in an interview today.

"Taking a little extra time is well worth it to have the best specification going forward," added Dell's Jeff Hornung.

The late 2001 ship date is in time for Intel's McKinley chip, the second in its upcoming 64-bit family. However, the System I/O will work in servers using less expensive hardware as well, said IBM's Tom Bradicich.

Sun's Mark Canepa wouldn't say whether Sun plans to have its System I/O-based designs out in 2001. "As soon as the standard is in place, we're going to race to market like everyone else," he said.

System I/O will be governed by a steering committee that will be led by Intel and IBM and will also include Dell, Sun, Compaq, HP, and Microsoft. Microsoft's Ed Miller said his company had been neutral on the standards dispute. "System I/O" is a working name only; a formal name will be chosen later.

The group's first meeting will be in October, the companies said.

The System I/O standard uses a method called a "switched fabric" to carry traffic from server CPUs to peripherals and other servers. The method essentially puts a miniature network inside the computer, a faster and more reliable method than the prevailing PCI bus.

System I/O will come in three flavors at the outset, with 1, 4, or 12 wires going through the fabric, depending on how powerful a server is being built. Those three flavors will transfer data at 0.5 gigabytes per second, 2 GB/sec, and 6 GB/sec, the companies said.