Intel eyes converged server-network boxes

Intel will announce Tuesday that it will work with Fujitsu-Siemens Computers BV to bring that company's telecommunications middleware to Intel platforms, and will introduce its first dual-processor server blade that complies with the most recent Compact PCI interface standard, as it aims to shepherd in a new generation of network devices.

The announcements, coming this week at Intel Developer Forum Europe, in Munich, are intended to help system vendors build Intel-based platforms for a telecommunications industry in transition, Intel officials said last week. As carriers rush to create new services and keep costs down, that industry will migrate toward the Intel architecture for servers just as enterprises did several years ago, said Shantanu Gupta, director of the Telecom Platform Office of Intel's enterprise platforms group, in Hillsboro, Oregon.

"What we bring to this space is very similar to what we brought to the other computing sectors," Gupta said.

Under Intel's partnership with Fujitsu-Siemens, that company will port its RTP (Resilient Telco Platform) middleware to the Intel architecture. This will allow system vendors to leverage the Intel architecture for applications such as VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) gateways, virtual private networks and Web-based call centers, according to Intel.

Also at IDF, Intel will introduce the ZT 5524 blade server, with dual low-voltage Pentium IIIs and two Gigabit Ethernet ports; the ZT 4901 I/O mezzanine, which adds Fibre Channel capability to that blade, and the ZT 5085/5088 chassis. The blades and chassis comply with PICMG (PCI Industrial Computer Manufacturers Group) 2.16, the latest Compact PCI standard. PICMG 2.16 allows for the use of Ethernet as well as the Compact PCI interface for communication between cards in a chassis.

The ZT 5085/88 represents a new type of device Intel calls a converged network platform, which is intended to accommodate both network interface and processing blades. That would allow service providers to install server blades to meet processing needs, and interface blades to meet bandwidth demands, all in the same device, he added.

Intel won't produce communications servers under its own brand but will supply components to system manufacturers, who will use Intel's hardware and load their own operating systems and other software.

Also this week, Intel is making available a design guide to the emerging ATCA (Advanced Telecom Computing Architecture) for server and communications blades. The guide, which Intel said has been reviewed by the industry, is intended to help developers start designing products now to meet a baseline set of ATCA specifications. That should help bring interoperability sooner, according to Intel officials. ATCA is a higher-performance version of Compact PCI optimized for carrier needs. Products using it should ship by the first quarter of 2003, they said.

As part of its push for standardized carrier platforms, Intel also is helping to promote a carrier-grade Linux initiative that is intended to establish Linux as an alternative to Sun Microsystems Inc. Solaris in carriers within two years.

Most equipment for carrier networks today uses proprietary hardware and software, which prevents competing vendors from developing new capabilities quickly and driving down prices, Gupta said. A standard hardware architecture and carrier-hardened Linux would allow for devices that could accommodate cards from a wide range of vendors, he said. More closely defined blade standards are key, according to Gupta. The current Compact PCI leaves too much room for variation in vendor implementations, he said.

A firmer standard would be welcomed by at least one telecommunications engineer.

A Compact PCI-based chassis from one vendor can easily accommodate cards from a variety of vendors, but not from all, said Benjamin Tan, executive consultant at Philcom Corp., in Makati City, Philippines. That means interoperability is acceptable, but not perfect.

"I can do it, but admittedly, it is tricky," Tan said.

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