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Leak! ServerWorks cornerstone of Intel servers

Roadmaps show reliance on outsiders

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Analysis A colleague at The Register who watches these things more than yours truly, says that a piece on Intel's server strategy, divided into three parts, and which we delivered last week, didn't start really hitting the numbers until the word "Leak!" was stuck in front of the headline. So now that's the order of the day in this series. But leaving that aside, a close analysis of the three pieces, based on conversations with a deep throat in Intel Europe, tells us more about the chipset shenanigans than a thousand releases from 10,000 PR bunnies each (sorry bunnies). The documents we saw, which emanate from Intel's server board division, and the conversations we've had reveal not just the interesting fact that the firm can now deliver fully specced up boards and a chassis to house such board to the world+dog, but that its strategy is heavily reliant on chipsets from outside Santa Clara. And, at the risk of facing another rash of emails, all good candidates for Flame of the Week, the roadmaps also reveal that however advanced Rambus technology may or may not be, it has little place in the Intel mobos of the future, especially at the workstation and server level. Three server boards were originally to be based on the i820 and the i840 platforms, but they have been canned. Instead, mobos such as Lancewood, Glen Echo, Ginko, Tupelo, support PC-133 memory -- synchronous DRAM -- with the latter two using external chipsets from ServerWorks (formerly Reliance). Juniper and Foster -- both motherboards which Foster microprocessors will fit into -- also use a ServerWorks chipset -- the GC. While the Itanium "Lion" mobo, called the Acacia or S460AC4, uses an Intel home grown chipset, the 460GX, this does not support Rambus memory either. Nor will the Cascades upgrade for the eight way Saber technology, codenamed the Palmetto, or more properly the SRPM8. There are indications that Intel customers are not entirely happy with this eight way Saber technology anyway. Compaq, because of its former close relationship with Corollary, managed to co-develop the chipset that powers its eight way ProLiant system. Paul Santeler, who runs the so-called "industry standard" division of Compaq, is on records some weeks back as saying that his firm will never use Rambus memory in these lucrative boxes. Dell, and other people forced to use the Saber mobos, are not happy that Compaq has stolen a market march and completely outsells the rest of the market on SMP eight way servers. The roadmap also makes the most remarkable assertion about Intel's motherboard partners (or should we read that competitors). It states that Intel research shows that none of these, largely Taiwanese firms, has investigated the Reliance-ServerWorks chipsets, and that gives a clear selling window for boxed motherboards against their own products, which presumably will use Intel's i840 chipset, unlike Intel itself. Unfortunately for Intel, it could be that our contacts with the Taiwanese motherboard manufacturers are as good, or if not slightly better than the negotiators from Chipzilla. We are reliably informed that at least two Taiwanese firms are reading mobos based on ServerWorks technology, and that these will compete very nicely indeed against Glen Echo and the newer Lancewood, thank you very much. Thanks to one reader for pointing us to a description of Tyan's dual processor Thunder 2500, for example, which uses the ServerWorks ServerSet III HE chipset and which you can find here. Availability was slated by Tyan at CeBIT (was anyone from Intel looking round Hall 13) for the end of Q2, but in fact sample motherboards are already out there with the OEMs, and one big UK distributor takes first delivery of such mobos, err, this week. Asus, too, is no ServerWorks slouch. Again at CeBIT, they demoed two boards while SuperMicro, which was the first to get an i840 mobo out, even before Intel could, have been making and selling a ServerSet four CPU board for quite some time. At this point, we would like to get readers who think we are unduly biased against the Rambus platform to suspend their disbelief for a paragraph. The reasons why all these motherboards do not use Rambus are not because the technology is inferior to DDR, SDRAM or anything else. It is because, as we pointed out in our first piece of this series, both the desktop and the server board divisions at Intel are bitterly disappointed at the failure of the chipset teams within the firm to make any of the blighters work properly, first time. Rambus fans, you can now exit suspend disbelief mode (SDM), as we remind you of Caminogate. The i820 chipset was first delayed at the beginning of last year. At the February 99 Intel Developer Forum, the firm warned that all was not well in making everything work fine with the i820. By September the chipset division thought it had it right, and then delivered and recalled Intel mobos to its favourite distributor, the Dull Corporation. While Intel is still pushing its own i820 motherboards throughout this year (see separate desktop pieces), there is a certain lack of confidence in these products. And, as we also reported in this series, some of these i820 mobos have already slipped. Even more damningly, some of Intel's competitors such as SuperMicro (above) have not had the same problem making the i820-i840 work as the people who invented it. And while it is, apparently true, that the reason why Foster (the grown up server/workstation version of Willamette) will use DDR memory because it is cheaper, it is rather an indictment that Intel's own mobos and a significant section of divisions inside the company, are today praising ServerWorks to the sky. So don't tell us that Intel kills its competitors. It promotes innovation. Wind River cannot lose because Intel licences its technology for its IXA Network Chip, and the suits at ServerWorks (formerly Reliance) must also be rubbing their hands in out-and-out glee. The latter, by the way, plans an IPO at some stage. According to excellent chip journalist Mark Hachman, in this Electronic Buyers' News story here,ww'd say its shares are likely to do rather well, particularly as that story suggests a...cough Willamette mobo based on ServerWorks chips will arrive...cough, this month. (Wind River Systems (Nasdaq: WIND), which specialises in real time operating systems, has seen its share price climb from around $16 last year to a high of $66 on March 1st this.) Intel and ServerWorks have a 10 year agreement -- shouldn't Chipzilla buy this firm, and sack its own chipset division? ®

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