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Intel's cunning network plan

Still missing blue bits of the jigsaw

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Analysis You've got to hand to it Intel, it understands jigsaws, especially those related to computers. Possibly, just like certain other readers of this online newspaper, you found yourself in the glad or unhappy receipt of said puzzles from a man masquerading as Santa Claus when you were a kid and had to sit on his knee. Just by shaking the present, wrapped as it was in fancy Christmas paper covered in robins, snow and tinselly bits, you could tell it was a jigsaw and wondered, when you got home, whether when you wrenched off the covering it was sure to be some kind of puzzle you could never solve. Unfortunately, Intel's IXA strategy, which it has already spent $6 billion on in the last 18 months and which aims to cover the building blocks, bricks and mortar, and wallpaper on the fabric of the Internet, seems to be that kind of a jigsaw. The companies Intel has bought, the most notable of which was Level One, and the last, which it is still negotiating to buy for half a billion dollars, Basis, do not form a complete building blocks strategy for the company. And, because Intel is so liquid, it is still acting coy about whether other acquisitions are in order, faced, as it is, with competition from other building block firms such as Cisco and IBM. Jeff McKeown, marketing manager of Intel's building block unit in Europe, told The Register this morning: "Intel's like wallpaper and you tend not to see the wallpaper." He explained that Intel was so well known throughout the industry that it talked to just about every other hi-tech firm, including those who were seen as competitors. He put it in another way: "We're the mortar between some of the bricks which we also supply." That is one of the quotes of all time. Given that it is competing with some of the IT industry's bravest, that is indeed an interesting statement. Firstly, its IXA technology, which we dubbed mycelium, or the underlying nature of fungi, is an edge technology, said McKeown. Intel wishes to make the whole of this architectural division highly scaleable, from the smallest, most humblest end user, to the largest, most arrogant, corporation. What about the other big boys playing this game? Said McKeown: "The big boys recognise that Intel will find an entry point [in the market]. They're looking at more rapidly developing designs in the future without going through the large development cycle involved." IXP 2000 has been taken up by many of Intel partners, and, we must say, the firm seems to have found itself a huge niche which must make board directors at Nortel, Lucent and even Cisco shake a little. Further, said McKeown, IXA will support both the Internet and the "fellow travellers" which also support Intel's strategy. At this point, we got quite a bit interested in these so called fellow travellers and investigated a little as to whose these might be. The term was invented in a McArthyite witch hunt of reds in the early fifties but we never thought we'd hear Intel's PC customers described as such. But yes. Fellow Travellers are, in Intelspeak, third party companies which willingly engage in following the firm's server and IXA strategies. McKeown does admit that the market is becoming ever increasingly commodotised and that Intel will attack its competitors on the price performance front. Most of us at the breakfast meeting could not help but conclude that meant the so-called "big boys" too. After all, if Intel managed to undercut 3Com on the price of network interface cards (NICs), why not the rest of the networking world? All in all, a most revealing breakfast meeting. More of which will follow later. ®

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