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Intel invests in new connection technology

The chipmaker and others invest $9 million in a start-up that will make processors for the upcoming InfiniBand technology for high-speed connections.

Intel and others have invested $9 million in a start-up that will make chips for the upcoming InfiniBand technology for high-speed connections among servers, storage systems and networks.

Start-up Banderacom isn't the only one making InfiniBand chips--IBM, Intel and Hewlett-Packard spinoff Agilent also have expressed interest in selling InfiniBand chips--but Banderacom is focused solely on InfiniBand, said Phill Grove, vice president of marketing and a former 12-year employee of Motorola.

The start-up, with less than three dozen employees and based in Austin, Texas, was founded in December. But its chips will emerge soon: "We expect silicon by the end of the year," Grove said.

InfiniBand, scheduled to debut in computers later next year, is a connection technology developed by Intel, Sun Microsystems, Dell Computer, Compaq Computer, IBM, HP and others. It's a critical element among the constellation of heavy-duty technologies trickling down from high-end computers to lower-priced models.

The companies designing InfiniBand came up with the name after resolving a dispute that had divided Intel from three of its largest server chip customers: IBM, HP and Compaq.

In the dispute, IBM, Compaq and HP had advocated a higher-speed but more expensive new technology called Future Input/Output (FIO), while Intel and its allies pressed for a conceptually similar, less expensive but less powerful system called Next-Generation I/O (NGIO). While the battle raged, servers based on Intel chips couldn't advance at the pace of proprietary Unix servers.

InfiniBand replaces today's "bus" technology for plugging in components such as electronic cards to communicate with networks or storage systems. These buses, such as PCI, force different components to share the same connection to a computer's CPU. InfiniBand, by contrast, uses a high-speed switch to set up individual connections between components.

InfiniBand chips will be needed in three areas, and Banderacom is focusing on two of those, Grove said. The company's chips will be used for the InfiniBand switch itself and for connecting "target" devices such as network cards or storage systems, he said.

InfiniBand also spreads across a range of data transfer speeds, depending on how powerful an InfiniBand switch is used and how expensive the server will be. Banderacom is looking at the high end, Grove said. "I think it's fair to say we're going to have one of the high-performance devices coming out of the chute."

The company has developed its own chip technology and doesn't have a patent cross-licensing deal with Intel, Grove said. Banderacom will rely on other companies to manufacture the chips it designs.

The chipmaker formerly was named INH Semiconductor. Other investors were Austin Ventures, Crossroads Systems and Jato Tech Ventures.