IBM and Intel are currently developing new I/O architectures aiming to fundamentally change the way servers are built.
IBM's Future I/O and Intel's Next Generation I/O (NGIO) are intended to replace the existing PCI specification for servers.
IBM's planned channel-based, or switched-fabric, design is taken directly from the mainframe model, said a source close to IBM's I/O development.
The design springs from IBM's vaunted technology, the venerable S/390 mainframe.
"We would want to line up the pathway to make [channel-based I/O] an industry standard, get the right players, then mature the actual technology specs," the source said.
Meanwhile, Intel is expected to detail its strikingly similar NGIO proposal at the Forum on Next Generation I/O for Servers, in San Diego.
PC OEMs were sanguine about the forthcoming channel-based I/O specifications.
"We do support switched-fabric architectures. They have some advantages," said Karl Walker, vice president of technology development at Compaq's Enterprise Computing Group.
Chris Dodd, manager of I/O and cluster architecture at Intel's Server Architecture Laboratory in Oregon, calls IBM's S/390 channel design the "reference standard" for server I/O. Intel plans to use technology from that architecture for next-generation servers.
More point-to-point links will replace the bus-oriented archi- tecture of today's PCs, Dodd said. A switched fabric will replace multiple buses.
After incorporating feedback from hardware developers and others, Intel will publish a final specification and offer royalty-free licences to prospective OEMs, said Tom Macdonald, marketing director for the enterprise server group at Intel in Oregon.
Macdonald pointed out that the NGIO specification does not require a specific CPU architecture, and could be used in servers based on non-Intel processors. For example, Sun could use Sparc and Compaq could use Alpha to drive servers that are built around the NGIO specification.