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Intel plots Gigabit Ethernet push

The chip giant says it will begin focusing on providing adequate bandwidth to PCs and servers powered by the company's microprocessors.

SAN FRANCISCO--Intel (INTC) executives said today that they will begin focusing on providing adequate bandwidth to PCs and servers powered by the company's microprocessors.

Highlighting the unique role Intel plays in the computing industry, the company spent much of its time at a networking-focused event here discussing the power of client and server machines, despite its insistence that networking is being taken seriously at the firm.

Surprising no one who has watched the microprocessor kingpin's aggressive tactics in the Ethernet-based networking gear market, the company offered further details on the role of next-generation Gigabit Ethernet in current and future products. A dedicated switch device with eight gigabit ports lurked unannounced in a booth outside the event's staging area.

As reported last week, among the announced items was a new gigabit-speed module for the company's 500 line of switches, due in March. In conjunction with that development, Intel also unveiled two new devices, also available in March, that offer routing functionality in lower-cost switches. Those new products will also support the gigabit uplinks.

Gigabit Ethernet is the next version of classic Ethernet technology, the dominant means for connecting PCs and server machines to a network. A standard for the technology is currently in the final stages of approval, though a recent delay could postpone final ratification until early fall.

Underscoring the importance Intel is placing on gigabit-speed Ethernet within its networking division, the company rolled out Craig Barrett--current president and COO--to discuss the latest developments in the firm's plans.

"We think we understand clients and servers and networks and network management," said a stoic Barrett at the event, held for the industry press and analyst community. "What we're interested in here is all elements of the networking space."

Intel also announced a new home networking operation division within the company to focus on making equipment for consumers. The moves follow the recent announcement from Cisco Systems that it would soon create a consumer-oriented networking division.

The company appears to be targeting the high-growth lower ends of the market, leaving enterprise accounts for typical networking companies.

Some industry pundits have pointed to Intel as a potential competitive threat to infrastructure stalwarts like Cisco and Bay Networks. Though Intel has gotten the attention of rival 3Com in several parts of the low-end networking market, it has not articulated a concise strategy to expand its role, even with an opening due to the gigabit-speed developments in Ethernet.

"At Intel today, we are not an enterprise player," admitted Mark Christensen, vice president of Intel's small business and networking group and general manager of the company's networking products division. "We do not have the entire family of products, nor do we pretend to have high-end routers for the enterprise."

Cisco continues to lead the networking industry as the largest provider of equipment for corporate networks. What has some believing that Intel could become a more visible enterprise player is the company's deep pockets and its ability to leverage a vast array of microprocessor fabrication facilities.

Executives at the event insisted this latest "stake in the ground" for the company's networking division has some teeth. "Intel is committed to this longterm," Christensen said. "This isn't something we're going to walk into then walk away from."

As part of the event, Intel also rolled out a low-end hub and router that allows branch offices to become networked and extend themselves out to the Net. Modules for the company's expanding 500 switch line are also in the works.

Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.