Compaq, IBM, HP, Adaptec Join on I/O Spec

Four IT vendors have formed the second group to be announced within a week to work on an I/O (Input/Output) architecture for enterprise servers.

Compaq Computer Corp., IBM Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Adaptec Inc. said today that they have created the Future I/O and will announce technical details for their proposed I/O architecture at a forum on Feb. 12 in Monterey, California.

The new architecture is widely viewed as a necessary replacement for the PCI and PCI X buses because those existing standards aren't keeping up with new processor speeds or high-power applications in areas like electronic commerce.

Today's announcement nipped at the heels of similar news from a six-vendor group led by Intel Corp., which released word late last week that it had formed the Next Generation I/O (NGIO) Industry Forum. Intel's announcement came after published reports that talks had broken down with Compaq, HP and IBM regarding work on a new I/O specification.

Such dogfights between competing vendors trying to work together on new standards are common. But at least one company representative has been pleased with how well Future I/O members have been able to push aside competitive fervor. Compaq, IBM and HP are fierce competitors in the enterprise server market.

"I've been pleasantly surprised on an individual level at how well we've been able to get along here," said Martin Whittaker, research and development manager of enterprise 'Net servers at HP. "It's been a real pleasure."

Compaq, IBM and HP have been working together on the I/O architecture issue for more than two years and recently pulled Adaptec into the discussions. The group initially formed to work on PCI X extensions, "but we came to the realization on the need to plan for a more revolutionary break with systems architecture," said Karl Walker, Compaq vice president of technology development.

Walker predicted that his group will work things out with the Intel-led coalition and said that the two sides continue to try to resolve differences, which include both the emerging new technology as well as the approach to its development.

Sources recently told IDG that a key issue driving apart the two sides has been Intel's unwillingness to compromise on its proposed NGIO and it's resistance to paying royalties to Compaq, HP and IBM for their technical contributions to the new standard. Representatives of the Future I/O didn't directly answer a question regarding royalties, but Walker did say that his group wants to develop the new architecture through an open process.

Thus far, the Future I/O has pushed ahead somewhat slowly with the hope of ensuring a stable architecture that will hold up for five to seven years.

"As systems vendors, we get beat bloody if we drag our customers through a constantly evolving standard," Walker said. "We really want to be sure this is not being viewed as vendor push, but as customer pull."

That's especially critical in the next year or two as corporations deal with year 2000 issues and the emergence of 64-bit computing, said HP's Whittaker.

"If we change everything at once, we're going to be met with a lot of resistance," he said.

The Future I/O plans to wrap up developing the technical aspects of the architecture this year, with hardware and software prototypes next year and "real products" sometime after that, Whittaker said.

The NGIO has said it will have out machines using its new architecture sometime next year.

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