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Intel renames servers, ups ante in communications

The chipmaking giant is expected to roll out its Netstructure line of Internet servers and detail plans to corral university research and development around its line of communications chips.

PALM SPRINGS, Calif.--Six months ago, Intel broadly outlined its plans to enter the communications field. Today, the company is expected to provide details on how it plans to tackle the new market.

The chipmaking giant will roll out the Netstructure line of Internet servers and detail plans on how it will work with universities to corral research and development around its line of communications chips at the Intel Developer Forum here.

The announcements highlight two major strategies of the company: to expand into providing equipment for building the Internet's infrastructure and to diversify its business lines beyond microprocessors for PCs.

Yesterday, during a dust-up with Sun Microsystems over an effort to bring Sun's Solaris operating system to servers running Intel's upcoming Itanium processor, Intel signaled that one of its main ambitions lay in taking on Sun in selling the nuts and bolts equipment of the Internet.

Networking is shaping up to be the most significant venture in Intel's strategy to expand beyond PC processors. With PC sales growth nearing a plateau, the company in the past two years has been seeking out new markets to maintain its historical financial returns.

The Netstructure line of servers is aimed largely at making Intel a player in the field of business Internet appliances, dedicated servers currently being made by companies like Cobalt. The seven new products are small servers dedicated to perform specific functions that ideally will make e-commerce more smooth and orderly.

"These are not general purpose platforms. These are fixed function devices that do one or two things well," said John Miner, general manager of the communications product group at Intel. The Netstructure line derives from technology Intel acquired when it bought iPivot and Dialogic, he said.

The SSL acceleration server, for instance, will be designed to handle encryption and identification functions for Secure Sockets Layer transactions. Typical general-purpose Web servers can handle up to 500 simultaneous general requests. That number can drop down to 50 requests when more intensive SSL identification requests come in, asserted Miner. Intel's SSL server can handle up to 250 to 500 SSL exchanges at once, which can ideally free up general Web servers and speed up the transaction process.

Other Netstructure products will be developed for improving how voice can be used on the Internet, he said.

Although these devices are also in the works at longtime Intel partners like HP, Miner stated that the product line does not represent a conflict with these companies as it combines computing technology, which Intel sells to its computing customers, with communications software the company has picked up on its own.

"It is not about hardware. It is about functionality. This is a communications product," Miner said. PC companies, however, could not be reached for comment.

In addition, the company will outline plans for expanding its influence in communications chips. Intel will sponsor research and Ph.D. programs at seven major universities, including MIT and Princeton, for developing research into communications processors, said Mark Christensen, vice president and general manager of the networking communications group.

Christensen will also trot out customer wins for the company's IXA brand of communications processors. Approximately 30 companies have agreed to adopt the IXA processor line, Christensen said. The IXA chips, announced last September, have yet to hit the market.