NetWorld+Interop: Intel outlines 'intelligent network'

Mark Christensen, GM of Intel's Communications Group, spelled out what's coming to the Internet in his keynote Tuesday afternoon.

In a keynote address in Atlanta on Tuesday at NetWorld+Interop, Intel Vice President Mark Christensen described his company's vision of where the Internet is going, what impact it will have on the economy and the role that chip technology will play in the future.

In outlining the fundamental changes that the Internet is bringing about, Christensen reiterated a fundamental Intel tenet -- namely, that in the next decade, one billion computers will be connected to it. Those computers will exist in a variety of devices, including cell phones and PalmPilots, and the devices will bring more value to the Internet. "The emerging Internet economy is growing rapidly worldwide, and there will be more than one connection per person, with $1tr (£620bn) in commerce being moved over the Internet," said Christensen, who is also the general manager of the Intel Communications Group.

Traditional businesses are "expanding beyond the firewall to embrace customers, employee telecommuters, suppliers and others", he added. Other businesses, such as the catalogue clothing company Land's End, view the Internet as a means to be more powerful and agile. But in using technology to expand their reach, Land's End and others need to improve and personalise customer service so that technology doesn't become a "cold barrier" to customers, Christensen said. "If you don't take care of your customers, someone else will," he said.

The Internet is also opening the door to new types of businesses, such as CyBear, which leverages the Net to help make a doctor's office more efficient in dealing with business issues. "All this change brings new expectations, however. If there is a glitch in technology, the business gets a black eye," Christensen said. "We have to build on the infrastructure to make it more scaleable, more reliable."

Christensen said that there are three Internet realities. "Business is still about serving customers and being agile to their needs." Having the agility and speed to deploy new services is key (and that agility comes from building intelligent networks that can be quickly provisioned to add new services). And security is a big concern. "We're talking about a new intelligent network that has security, baseline quality of service and policies to ensure certain applications get the level of service they require," he said. Regarding security, Christensen said that what is needed for secure communications both on the LAN and across the Internet is encryption, authentication and data integrity.

In deploying new services, provisioning -- the process of creating a new service that can be billed for -- must be streamlined. "Today it takes 200 days for a carrier to provision a new service," Christensen said. That lag is largely due to the need to upgrade equipment that can support the service. To streamline provisioning, new programmable silicon is needed to replace the inflexible hardware architectures used in today's switching equipment.

"There is a model for better economies of scale and flexibility, and an architecture that enables the reuse of valuable software in different places," Christensen said. He described that model as the application of Moore's Law to networking, where more functions can be moved into software-programmable network processors that deliver faster time-to-market for new products and services and a longer lifecycle in the field.

The requirements for such network processors include multithreaded processing (in which multiple instructions are processed simultaneously), scalability and less power for greater density. The combination of such network processors that can be programmed at the packet level and additional processors for applications such as provisioning means different things for different constituents. "For end users, it means security will be like a dial tone," Christensen said. "For IT, it means the flexibility to adapt to changing requirements. For service providers, it means faster provisioning of new services. And for equipment suppliers, it means shorter time to market."

At a press conference following the keynote, Christensen was joined by several partners -- Compaq Computer, IBM, Entrust Technologies and Microsoft -- to outline a new security initiative in which each participant will deliver an element for end-to-end security. For its part, Intel will provide new IPSec (Internet Protocol Security) products for PCs and servers optimised for Windows 2000, including a new security chip set that combines Intel's 82559C Fast Ethernet Controller with its 82594ED Network Encryption Co-Processor. The chip set, available now, is intended to offload network security processing functions from a PC or server CPU. Intel later this year will release its own adapters and LAN-on-motherboard offerings that use the chip set.

Meanwhile, Compaq and IBM will use Intel's IPSec products in their own security offerings. Intel and Entrust announced an interoperability alliance focused on certificate-based security, and Intel and Microsoft are working together to integrate hardware-based acceleration with Windows 2000.