Truce reached in computing standards battle

The two camps that have been battling over next-generation I/O architecture are joining forces to develop a unified switched fabric interconnect called System I/O.
Written by Sonia R.Lelii, Contributor

The Next Generation I/O Forum (NGIO) and the Future I/O group have come to terms on several major issues of disagreement. They are expected to announce an agreement Tuesday at the Intel Developer Forum that will lead to the replacement of the PCI (peripheral component interconnect) bus-based interconnect, according to a source close to the negotiations. NGIO is led by Intel, while Future I/O was founded by Compaq Computer, Hewlett-Packard and IBM, three of the largest users of Intel's chip technology. The two sides have further agreed to form a single governing body, comprising members of both groups, with each company getting one vote on how this technology will be forged. IBM and Intel will be the initial co-chairs of the governing body. A steering committee will be the interim governing body.

The fracture started almost a year ago when Compaq, HP and IBM, with their commanding share of the PC server market, announced they were developing an extension to the PCI bus, called PCIX. The extension would speed data between a host computer and peripheral devices. Intel then announced it was developing a switched fabric interconnect for next-generation computers that would provide a quantum leap over PCIX. The troika then created Future I/O to develop a rival fabric interconnect standard.

Now Intel and the big three have agreed that the current PCI bus standard and its extension, PCIX, will be the starting points for future specifications. Intel and the three are developing the I/O specifications separately and will merge them to form the new standards for a switched fabric technology called System I/O. "They will take the best from both specs and merge them into one spec," the source said.

In addition, the companies have come to a philosophical consensus that a new fabric-based I/O standard will give hardware manufacturers the wiggle room for improvisation and technological innovations that allow them to differentiate their products, the source said. Server makers will be able to maintain ownership of their intellectual property and the right to license it -- a prime requirement for Intel. Moreover, the source said companies would have a "fair and reasonable" right to compensation and royalties on any technology they develop that is incorporated into future I/O structures.

PCI is a local bus standard developed by Intel to connect a host computer and peripheral devices. The current implementation of PCI, Version 2.0, is a 64-bit bus that runs at a clock speed of 66MHz. Switched fabric will improve the throughput speed to 2.5GB per second in its first generation, according to the source. The fabric does this by creating multiple, distinct pathways between devices to speed the transfer of data and eliminate a single point of failure.

There will be a lengthy transition period where PCIX and System I/O will co-exist so customers can gradually migrate to the new switched fabric I/O structure on their own time frame.

Officials from the four companies refused to acknowledge that the deal had been struck. "I'm not going to confirm a merger yet, but if there were, this is what we would want to see," said Bill Kircos, a spokesman for Intel. Kircos said Intel's goals for unification included the creation of a single specification that would allow for high-volume production and a modular, pay-as-you-go design.

NGIO Forum is at www.ngioforum.org. The Future I/O group is at www.futureio.org.

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