Intel introduced a new I/O (input/output) technology for high end servers on Wednesday. But a number of key PC vendors are already committed to an alternative technology, PCI-X, which offers better compatibility with the current PCI bus.
The Next Generation I/O (NGIO) specification was presented at an industry forum in San Diego. It offers a radical departure from the traditional I/O bus.
NGIO brings 'fabric based' or switched I/O, an approach common in mainframe environments, to high volume servers. Though Intel is the driving force behind the spec, it is independent of the Intel processor architecture.
NGIO will offer speeds of 1.2Gbits per channel. A midrange Intel based server is expected to have about four such channels, bringing total system throughput to 4.8Gbps.
Intel said it was likely that the channel speed could be doubled, which would lead to total system throughput of 10Gbps.
Initial systems based on the technology are expected to ship in 2000.
But while Intel is working on a successor to the PCI bus, some PC makers are bent on prolonging the life of the widely used bus technology.
In September, Compaq, HP and IBM announced they were collaborating on PCI-X, a faster version of PCI. The specification has been turned over to the PCI Special Interest Group. A final spec is expected by the middle of Q1 1999, and both servers and peripherals based on the spec would reach the market by the second half of 1999 ? up to a year before NGIO ships.
?The issue here is customer investment protection," said Karl Walker, Compaq's vice president of technology development. ?The goal of PCI-X was to provide new capabilities, but to carry forward the huge investments already made in PCI technology."
PCI-X will maintain compatibility with the installed base of PCI cards, said Walker. On the other hand, NGIO will require new hardware as well as modifications to server software.
And PCI-X will offer burst speeds of 1Gbyte (8 Gbits) per second, higher than the basic speed of NGIO.
?We see PCI-X as at best an incremental step from PCI," countered Bill Miller, Intel?s director of marketing. According to Miller, PCI is essentially designed for the desktop PC environment. NGIO, on the other hand, is optimised for transporting the large datasets that are typical in enterprise applications such as data warehousing.
While the PCI-X effort is being directed by an independent industry group, Intel has not yet committed to a standards effort around NGIO, though it said it is considering such a move.
Compaq is not closing the door to NGIO, insisting that it is taking a 'wait and see' position and will let its customers decide.
IBM, while involved in the PCI-X development, is rumoured to be considering its own attempt at fabric based I/O.
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