Intel - venture investments to boost IA-64

'Please Take Our Money'Now that Intel's IA-64 platform is a mere six months away, the chip giant is scrambling to invest in companies that are willing to back the architecture.

The effort hasn't been an easy one for Craig Barrett & Co. Dozens of high-tech companies, venture firms and business conglomerates are flooding the market with venture money in the States. Some are even forming "keiretsus" that share business resources among start-up companies.

The result: Intel is competing with multiple funding sources, many of which may provide more flexible terms or different types of relationships than the chip giant.

"Money is a commodity now," says Steve Gertz of Diamond Technology Partners. "You have to offer companies something more."

Further complicating matters for Intel, the company's venture fund is up against a tight deadline. Intel partners say the company is preparing an October launch of Itanium, the first member of its IA-64 family. Intel will not confirm that date, but the company has committed to getting Itanium workstations on the market by the end of 2000. Partners also report "refrigerator-sized" test hardware, which Intel claims will shrink from 7U (data-centre rack-mount units) to 4U by ship date. Performance numbers are not expected until July, and ship dates for servers are unknown.

In anticipation of IA-64, Intel has made several changes in how it handles investments. In a departure from its secretive past, Intel posts information about Intel Capital on the Web and has become more explicit about the fund's contribution to Intel's bottom line.

In May, the company will gather customers and partners for an Intel 64 Fund Technology Conference and will ask them where Intel should invest. "It's a $250m (£157m) fund. We're looking for solutions gaps," says fund manager John Couleur.

But some companies considering investments from Intel say Intel needs to do more. Steeleye Technology, a Linux clustering start-up launched in January, has delayed signing with Intel. The company is busy examining other offers that may surpass Intel's in both flexibility and dollars.

Steeleye was not seeking an Intel investment, although it was attracted by the quality of the Intel 64 Fund's other investors and Intel's marketing programs. But Steeleye's board blanched when it saw Intel's contract and the requirements it implied. "It may still happen, but [we] now realise [we're] a very attractive property," says a spokesman for Steeleye.

Intel also is seeking Java investments in an effort to best Sun Microsystems. "Intel's money is on big server farms, and they need Java to run better on Intel than on Sparc," says one VP who is talking to Intel but has reached no decision on funding.

Intel investee Lutris Technologies says it's not sure when its open-source Java app server will be ready for Itanium. As part of the Intel 64 Fund, Lutris must work with IBM on Java and the Trillian project on Linux. Project Monterey from IBM also will figure into the mix. But all IA-64 operating systems still are in early testing, at best.

Steeleye Technology isn't ready to take Intel's money, but company CEO Jim Fitzgerald was willing to take something else: NCR's clustering technology, dubbed LifeKeeper. With LifeKeeper, Fitzgerald figured he could target tens of thousands of Intel-based Linux servers with technology typically offered on high-end proprietary systems.

An 11-year veteran of Sun Microsystems--Fitzgerald directed business development for SunSoft--he says he learned Unix's technical requirements but also saw the business challenges faced by Unix vendors and the gaps in the open-source market.

"In the current open source market, partners use all their energy integrating solutions at the base level and can't provide value over that," he says. "We make that initial step of simple integration easier, although clustered systems are not simple in general."

Steeleye has acquired LifeKeeper, and will sell it as a proprietary offering on top of Linux. Steeleye also will make open-source contributions to ensure LifeKeeper's success. The company is building an indirect channel and will approach all of Intel's key OEM partners. It will also leverage NCR's partner channel and global services organisation.

Concludes Fitzgerald: "We're offering an opportunity that is typically offered by the OS vendors themselves. Open source technology and an open Linux kernel offers lots of opportunities for companies that want to focus on the quality gap."

Intel is suffering from what we might call Microsoft Syndrome, the symptoms are rampant and unnecessary paranoia, read the news comment at AnchorDesk UK with Peter Jackson.

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