Intel Expands Network Switch Role

Intel last week announced a slew of components that could result in less expensive enterprise network switches and routers.

Intel has proven itself as a supplier of aggressively priced switches and routers for small company and remote office networks. The company's new Media Switch components will give Intel an entrance into the equipment market for larger enterprise networks - though as a supplier to the actual box makers.

Intel, which unveiled the Media Switch line of 10M bit/sec, 100M bit/sec and 1G bit/sec Layer 2, 3 and 4 switch and router components at the Intel Developer Forum, could not predict just how much its new offerings will cost by the time they reach end users as finished products. But Intel's economies of scale in mass-producing processors should enable the company to deliver components that result in relatively inexpensive products from other switch and router vendors, says William Hurley, an analyst with the Yankee Group Inc. in Boston.

Intel's components, for eight- and 24-port devices, will come bundled with the APIs, protocol stacks and source code that should let switch and router makers build devices quickly and enable them to handle typical, as well as advanced, applications, such as voice over IP and media streaming. The new components will start shipping in the fourth quarter.

Peer-to-peer pressure

Also at its conference last week, a top Intel official declared the company's support for peer-to-peer (P2P) networking (… la the Napster Inc. music sharing technology), which he said could become an important tool for businesses.

Broadly speaking, P2P networking involves the exchange of information or computing resources among multiple computers connected over a network. In such an environment, desktop PCs, servers and notebooks become "peers" that share their resources - such as processing power or storage space - with other PCs on the network.

Businesses could save millions of dollars each year by taking advantage of unused processing power and storage resources residing in other computers on their networks or on the Internet, said Pat Gelsinger, vice president and general manager of Intel's Desktop Products Group.

At the same time, the model could lead to new types of services and applications that are only now becoming possible, thanks to the proliferation of PCs and the Internet.

"[P2P] computing could usher in the next generation of the Internet, much as we saw Mosaic usher in the last era," Gelsinger said, referring to the pioneering Mosaic Internet browser.

Intel also announced the formation of an industry working group focused on P2P networking that will hold its first meeting Sept. 26 in Santa Clara. Members include Intel, IBM Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and several start-ups, including Groove Networks Inc. and Entropia Inc. Intel is in discussions with Microsoft Corp. about joining the group, Gelsinger said.

Gelsinger boasted that Intel has used P2P computing within the company for the past eight years, allowing its engineers around the world to share processing power to run chip design applications.

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