A conflict between Intel and three of its largest customers, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard and IBM, has been quietly brewing in recent weeks over development of the next-generation standard for server input/output (I/O).
At the heart of the conflict is Intel's refusal to adopt the Future I/O standard under development by Compaq, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Adaptec, and 3Com. Instead, Intel, with support from companies such as Dell, Hitachi, NEC and Sun Microsystems, is moving ahead with the development of a rival I/O technology, dubbed Next Generation I/O (NGIO).
Intel's apparent decision not to adopt the Future I/O standard comes despite public statements from large server vendors that they are not interested in NGIO.
"Our stated direction is Future I/O -- that's the path we're headed down, although we've been, and continue to be, in discussions with Intel on how we might bring the standards together," said Mary McDowell, vice president and general manager of Compaq's Industry Standard Server Group.
Indeed, Intel officials participated in a recent conference on Future I/O held in Monterey, California, she added.
At the heart of the disagreement between the Future I/O and NGIO camps lie fundamentally different approaches to bringing next-generation I/O technology to market.
"It's primarily a difference in what degree of capability do we think needs to occur in the first generation of the new technology, and how quickly we think the market demand is going to build," said McDowell.
"The perspective of the Future I/O members is that going from a bus architecture to a switched fabric is a pretty major upheaval, and sort of impacts all aspects of the system and the software. And so you want to do it once and you want to get it right."
From Compaq's point of view, Intel's approach to developing server I/O technology is out of step with the realities of enterprise computing environments.
"We want to optimise for very high bandwidth as an initial starting point. Intel's orientation is to get to market more quickly with a lower-performance [technology]," said McDowell.
"We think that will induce more churn and certainly the feedback we're getting from our customers in general on Intel microprocessors is that the churn has become very expensive to sustain in their environments," McDowell said.
Intel is trying to apply lessons learned from its success in the desktop PC market to the market for enterprise servers, without accounting for the difference in product cycles between the two market segments, she said.
"We've had three frequencies in high-end Xeons in the space of 10 weeks, and enterprise infrastructures can't support that. If we're going to make headroom against Sun in the enterprise space, we need more stability. That stability is very important, so we want to do it once and get it right."