Intel determined to dominate storage market

Have disk, will travel

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IDF Spring 05 When thinking of storage vendors, Intel isn't usually one of the first names to pop in someone's head. The big daddy of silicon hopes to change that over the coming years and has put two of its top executives in charge of a major storage push.

"Intel's silicon penetration in the storage market is not where we want it to be," said Abhi Talwalkar, vice president of Intel's digital enterprise group, during a question and answer session here at the Intel Developer Forum.

Talwalkar and former CTO Pat Gelsinger head up the newly formed digital enterprise group and are trying to align Intel's storage products with its client, server and networking gear. The executives plan to keep a steady eye on the storage market, bucking Intel's past flakiness where data center disk was concerned. In so doing, they expect to take a much larger chunk of a multi-billion dollar storage hardware market.

"You will see much more concerted focus from us in the storage area," Gelsinger vowed.

Intel's most pressing concern is to make sure its Pentium and Xeon chips find their way into as many storage systems as possible. Storage vendors currently use a number of different processors in their boxes, meaning Intel doesn't enjoy the same advantage it holds in the market for basic, x86 servers.

Two of Intel's main areas of interest with storage systems will be to help partners produce lower-cost systems for use in SANs (storage area networks) and to power storage appliances that run specialized software for tasks such as management or virtualization. A recent example of the latter type of system comes from EMC, which this week released metadata search software that runs on a Xeon-based server from Dell.

Intel, however, plans to play in all parts of the storage arena. For example, it revealed a new TCP/IP acceleration package this week that should boost the performance of both servers and storage systems. The technology could make TOE (TCP/IP Offload Engine) cards obsolete in the storage market, according to Intel.

"The one space where TOE engines (work well) today is with very large, block size transfers where the characteristic workload is storage," Gelsinger said. "Everyplace else, they don't work well at all.

"(Our technology) works extremely well with small- to medium-sized packets and is very competitive as you go to large packet sizes as well."

Intel may look to extend this type of acceleration technology to the fledgling iSCSI storage market, the executives said.

The full breadth of Intel's storage line can be seen here. As the variety of product - from processors to host bus adapters and ethernet controllers - shows, Intel has a shot at hitting the data center right where servers, storage systems and networking technology collide. In particular, Intel is set to capitalize on the growth of 10 Gigabit Ethernet products. This technology combined with iSCSI lets Intel extend the "standards-based" gear it's more familiar with higher-up the storage food chain to where Fibre Channel kit plays today. ®

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