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Start-up fills Intel's InfiniBand void

Mellanox, a start-up building chips for the budding high-speed networking technology, is stepping in to fill a void left by the departure of Intel from the market.

Mellanox, a start-up building chips for the budding InfiniBand high-speed networking technology, is stepping in to fill a void left by the departure of Intel from the market.

Mellanox will announce Monday that it's shipping prototypes of new chips to companies such as JNI to build adapter cards to endow servers with InfiniBand connections.

The chips, Mellanox's second-generation design, are coming just as Intel announced that it's withdrawing from the InfiniBand chip market. Mellanox's new chip is aimed at the same lower-end server market in which Intel was interested.

Because Mellanox, IBM and other chipmakers have products that were viewed more favorably than Intel's products, Intel's departure wasn't crippling for the InfiniBand movement. But it will saddle the InfiniBand flag-bearers with a tougher job of trying to nurture the growth of the technology.

InfiniBand once was billed as a replacement for the PCI data pathway universally used to plug devices such as network cards into servers and PCs. However, PCI was extended to higher speeds, giving it a longer lifespan.

Meanwhile, InfiniBand was diminished so it could be used in a smaller market, joining servers to each other and to high-end storage systems. But it's still an important technology, beating out Ethernet and Fibre Channel networking technologies to the vaunted 10-gigabit-per-second transmission speed. InfiniBand also is the foundation of a planned convergence of the communication infrastructure of IBM's entire server line.

Mellanox's new InfiniHost MT23108 has several improvements over its first-generation InfiniBridge product. For one thing, it connects to the server via the higher-speed PCI-X technology, meaning that servers will be better able to keep up with InfiniBand transmission speeds. And it includes a serializer/deserializer, a part of the chip that handles conversion of data sent at high speed along a few wires to data sent more slowly across many more wires.

Mellanox didn't disclose pricing information or say when final versions of the chip would be available.

Mellanox, based in Santa Clara, Calif., has raised $89 million from investors, including Intel, Dell Computer and Sun Microsystems.