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Intel battles networking big four

Intel says it will continue its barrage of networking products next year, heightening the chip giant's play for a piece of the infrastructure market.

Intel (INTC) says it will continue its barrage of networking products next year, heightening the chip giant's play for a piece of the huge infrastructure market.

The microprocessor kingpin has already made its mark in the PC card market, driving down prices this year in a battle for supremacy against 3Com. The company has also had success in shared media hardware for small businesses, moving into a number two position after 3Com in shared 100 mbps (megabits per second) gear, according to data from market researcher International Data Corporation (IDC). That gear, called "hubs," allows multiple machines to connect to an Ethernet pipe.

Now the company hopes to round out the progress it made this year in shaping a strategy for medium-sized businesses with tools that deliver higher speeds and more manageability between network connections. Reinier Tuinzing, director of strategic marketing for Intel's networking products division, said, "Now what we're going to do is add depth to our 1997 strategy."

The move signals that the company will battle more often with the Big Four entrenched networking stalwarts--3Com, Cisco Systems, Bay Networks, and Cabletron Systems--for a larger piece of the networking gear market for mid-sized departments within corporations and small campus networks.

At the heart of this high-speed push is Gigabit Ethernet, an emerging standard for next-generation Ethernet that delivers data at rates of 1,000 mbps. Intel will both deliver hardware to connect servers to networks and also provide links within its switching hardware to handle the higher speeds. Both of those features are likely to be available in the first half of next year.

Said Tuinzing, "Gigabit is sort of at the forefront of our minds right now."

For some, the focus on switching cannot come soon enough if Intel is serious about its infrastructure strategy. Esmerelda Silva, analyst with IDC, said, "Intel still has a long ways to go in terms of becoming a major player in the [local area] switching area. I would like to see from them a lot more on the switching side."

Silva also wonders how Intel will adapt from focusing on the PC card race against 3Com to delivering a total package of products to build a network for departments and workgroups. "It's a very different play for them," she said.

First out the door in the first quarter of next year will be a server adapter line with gigabit speeds, according to Intel. Links in switches and a gigabit-centric switch will follow soon after. In the first half of next year, customers will also see the fruits of Intel's acquisition of Dayna Communications, part of the company's play for the small-business market.

Intel also stressed the company's push to expand the manageability of the network and, by extension, the connected desktop through Web-based software tools. Those tools will eventually allow an administrator to drill beyond network elements to Intel desktops to view information--such as available memory--in a single application.

The company also plans to extend the performance and feature sets of its networking cards now that it is delivering networking capabilities within a single PC card chip. Intel's Tuinzing said, "You can't isolate the desktop from the rest of the network."

Noted Silva: "They have made inroads. You are not dealing with a vendor that's going to go away in a couple of years."

Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.