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Intel cancels InfiniBand products

The chipmaker withdraws from the InfiniBand market, a move that could hurt perceptions of the embryonic high-speed networking technology.

Intel has withdrawn from the InfiniBand chip market, a move that could hurt perceptions of the embryonic high-speed networking technology.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker had planned to make chips in 2003 that would allow servers to communicate with storage devices and other servers through InfiniBand, a high-speed "fabric" for linking systems. But Intel canceled the program, deciding to leave the work to others such as IBM and Mellanox and concentrate its development money elsewhere, said spokeswoman Diane Wilson.

"We still wholeheartedly support InfiniBand," Wilson said. But outside observers say Intel's decision sends a contrary message.

"It couldn't come at a worse time," said Illuminata analyst Jonathan Eunice. InfiniBand is now at a stage where the first products are just arriving, and Intel's decisions have a heavy influence on other technology companies.

"When they say, 'We're going to do this,' a lot of people follow. It gives a lot of people confidence this is the way to go and invest in," Eunice said. When Intel backs out, the equation flips.

Still, the import of the decision is diluted by the fact that Intel wasn't a heavy hitter in InfiniBand products. Intel had backed a lower-speed "1x" version of InfiniBand, but the industry has anointed the "4x" speed, which uses more wires, as the one worth adopting, Eunice said. A "12x" speed also has been developed, but products aren't yet available.

InfiniBand, promoted by hundreds of companies, once was expected to replace PCI as the way network adapter cards and other such devices were plugged into servers. That idea fell out of favor, but many still believe InfiniBand's high-speed connections will provide an ideal "fabric" for joining the myriad servers and storage systems within data centers.

IBM is among the biggest supporters of InfiniBand, planning to use it as the input-output technology that will help converge its server designs.

Start-ups such as RedSwitch, Banderacom and Mellanox also are backing InfiniBand. And Lane15 is pushing InfiniBand software. Intel has invested in several of these start-ups.

InfiniBand had been geared for tasks that it now appears will be handled by extensions of the years-old PCI technology PCI-X and PCI Express.