Intel inside e-business

Intel is best known for its PC chips, but is now promoting its business acumen

Intel may be best known for selling microprocessors -- the building blocks of PCs -- but the company hopes people will begin to look for "Intel Inside" the business Internet as well.

The chip giant took its e-business message to the UK this week with a day long forum highlighting the role of Intel and its partners in promoting standards for companies looking to get online. To back up its commitment the company is planning to launch three e-business solution centres in Europe next year, following up the one already established near London.

The computing industry no longer relies on large, vertically-integrated system providers such as IBM in the 1980s, goes Intel's message. Instead there is an "ecosystem" of interdependent software and hardware providers, with services providers such as Intel -- as well as other giants such as Compaq and IBM -- to tailor-make a solution for each customer.

The trend is away from "big iron" such as the prototypical IBM mainframe, towards distributed, inexpensive components, Intel says. This trend has allowed the computing industry to grow from an $80bn (about £50bn) a year industry to $800bn a year in 1998, and headed for $8tn by 2012.

But Intel is not principally a services company, as it readily admits: its core business is selling building blocks such as servers. The challenge is how to develop this business in the Internet age. "People are buying solutions, not just computers," says Michael Fister, vice president and general manager of Intel's Enterprise Platforms Group.

Much of Intel's e-business message still centres on its silicon, such as the new Pentium 4 or the emerging 64-bit platform, IA-64. Fister said 30,000 IA-64 Itanium processors have been shipped to the industry as part of a pilot programme that began in October.

The processor will be generally available in the first half of next year, but there is unlikely to be an official launch date. Instead, Intel will continue progressively rolling out Itanium to more and more customers. "Frankly, I think the idea of having a big launch is obsolete," Fister told ZDNet UK.

Itanium, under development for more than five years, is aimed at the market for the powerful servers that handle large databases, bringing it into head-on competition with the specialised chips that currently dominate the market, from companies such as Sun Microsystems and IBM.

The chip is designed to do calculations much more quickly than current Intel parts, and will address large amounts of memory, around 64GB and higher, making it better able to handle the complex database-oriented calculations needed by large businesses. The chip will be able to drive large computing systems, with hundreds or thousands of processors linked together, according to Intel.

Intel's smaller rival AMD, which controls about 20 percent of the world PC processor market, is hoping to give Intel a run for its money in the server market with its own 64-bit processor, Hammer. The Hammer line of chips, including ClawHammer and SledgeHammer, will use the existing x86 instruction set, theoretically allowing for a much easier transition from 32-bit to 64-bit computing.

See Chips Central for daily hardware news, including interactive roadmaps for AMD, Intel and Transmeta.

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