18th > November > 1999 Archive
Ideal recruits to bolster storage sales
Ideal Hardware has raided rival distributors to add four new recruits to its existing stable of product managers. The distributor has appointed Catherine Hughes as product manager for SCSI. She has left the same job at Datrontech's storage arm, Summit Peripherals. Camissa Akehurst has joined Ideal as product manager for Computer Associates from rival distributor Landis. Ideal has also recruited Adrian Bishop as product manager of its tape storage division. He joins from RK Distribution, where he was tape product manager. He will be responsible for vendors including Iomega, Sony, HP, Tandberg, Quantum Tape and Datawise. And Fergus Campbell has joined as Ideal's product manager for memory, motherboards, chips and cases. Campbell was previously sales manager at Simms International. Earlier this month Ideal appointed Steve Lundy as finance director. Its current reorganisation and expansion follows a profit warning in June. ®
Why Intel Coppermines are like hen's teeth
ColumnThe mushroom technique is a tried and tested formula in the wonderful world of executive suits. Essentially, it can be expressed in these few words: "Keep'em in the dark and feed them dung". This is what makes many of us mushrooms when faced with the full force of the Intel spin paramedics. A spate of articles on the Web appeared yesterday after local New York newspaper The Wall Street Journal got wind of a series of stories the not-so-venerable Register wrote a day after Intel's Coppermine was introduced. A day after Intel played the fanfare and beat the drums about the advent of Coppermine processors, we discovered that the company would be unable to deliver the full range of Coppermine processors it introduced for some weeks, nay months. We had internal Intel documents to this effect and our representatives here in Blighty, faced with these facts, said: "Yes, we're bang to rights, it's a fair cop guv, and supplies are tight" -- or words very much to that effect. Nevertheless, given the fact that Intel was on the record some months earlier that its Coppermine .18 process would not crank up until the year 2000, we find it rather surprising that more of us mushrooms didn't make a break for fruit status from our mycelium roots a little bit earlier. Here are some facts about Intel Coppermine production, kindly contributed by a reader and which add up to the fact there's not mushroom for .18 process high yields quite yet. He points out that when US spin paramedics say millions of Coppermines will be shipped in this quarter, it is not as impressive as it sounds. As the chip is just over 100 square millimetres, an eight inch silicon wafer holds between 250-275 each, with, say a good yield being 200 chips a wafer. It only needs 10,000 wafers to produce two million Copperminos -- which means that Intel can make that many in just two weeks with only one of the four fabs they have producing the microprocessors. Each fab can make around 5,000 wafers a week, amounting to 60,000 wafers a quarter, if we make the probably mistaken assumption that Intel shuts down for Yule. There's no point asking Intel about yields. Its policy is to never, never, ever talk about how many wafers it produces. It would not warm the cockles of people's hearts if such information became generally available. So what's going on? We understand that there are no process problems with Coppermine production and we're inclined to think that this is a marchitectural rather than an architectural problem. Most of Intel's .25 micron production is still rolling, rolling, rolling, and there's no way it's going to throw the switch to off on those chips until it's ready to transfer all of its production to the .18 micron process. In the meantime, it will continue to sell .25 micron chips to the world+dog. A couple of other loose ends to tie up here. The people in the PR pit who feed us the dung to help the mushroom grow are part of Intel's sales group, and hence belong to the lowerarchy rather than the hierarchy. We've noticed a growing tendency for the US press to start naming these spin paramedics and in Blighty we think this is really a breach of journalistic etiquette. Mike Sullivan, for example, worked in the UK for a while and is a very nice chap, putting the best spin possible on a story in the worst of all possible situations. "Dancing" Dan Francisco is a smooth Intel operator and could probably do with a pay rise too... And hen's teeth? Well, both male and female chicks have them at birth, so they can peck their way out of their eggs. But the tooth gradually disappears. In the case of Coppermine, these little chippy chicks are only just beginning to peck their way out into daylight. Intel's mistake -- and one of rather too many it made in 1999 -- was to shout too loud about Coppermine processors without explaining how its factories work. And our mistake, as journalists, was to believe the dung heaped on us mushrooms. ® On Coppermines, see also Pentium III-800 brought forward to Q1 next year So why is Intel's Coppermine good? Coppermines rise from the channel shallows Intel beset by further Coppermine, chipset delays Intel's Coppermine fails to dampen AMD's Athlon squib Huge shortages, technical problems hit Intel Coppermine On Intel's fabrication process see also Intel is a twelve incher Intel makes The Register sweat Part III
Two more CHS divisions hit the MBO trail
More management buy outs are taking place at CHS Electronics – this time in its Irish and Scandinavian subsidiaries. In a deal approved on Monday, a consortium from Romak Computers in Ireland, Santech Micro Group in Sweden, and CHS Electronics divisions in Denmark and Norway agreed to buy out the two divisions. The businesses will have their own autonomous management team, but will share a holding company based in Denmark. This will be called Santech Micro Group Holdings, a new private joint stock company. The Nordic businesses will take back their pre-CHS names - except Santech Micro Group and Romak Computers, which will keep their current titles. The contracts for the MBO are not expected to be finalised until December. Last week CHS Electronics named Burt Emmer as its interim CFO. Emmer replaced Craig Toll, and the company said it was looking for a permanent CFO. Earlier this month Karma UK announced an MBO from CHS Electronics. ®
Can Egg crack its security worries?
Egg could be incubating a serious security problem and undermining confidence in the service. Yesterday, the online bank admitted there had been a security lapse when dealing with a customer's credit card details.
BT to boost IP network
BT is to expand its Internet Protocol (IP) backbone network to cope with the anticipated demand for Internet services in Britain. By next March it claims that it will increase its points of presence (POPs) from 14 to 103. Not only will the network be 60 times faster than it is today, it will also be able to grow to 300 times the capacity of today's IP network, the company said. BT said it was also planning to deploy 100,000 extra dial ports by April 2000 -- with up to a further 100,000 planned by the following September. David Hughes, BT's head of Internet and IP network services said: "BT's IP network is fundamentally much better suited to carrying Internet traffic than the public telephone network, and does so at a lower cost, making it possible to reduce prices for Internet service providers and their customers." Today's announcement follows last week's now discredited announcement about BT's plans to slash the cost of Net access in the UK. An attempt to source BT's announcement from its corporate Web site failed this afternoon after the statement was replaced with the error message "The requested page generated an error: Invalid session." ®
Computacenter founder becomes working class hero
Computacenter tycoon Peter Ogden is to donate £25 million to get working class kids into private schools. The co-founder of reseller Computacenter will provide scholarships in the country's top schools for children from families that earn less than £30,000 per year. The father of three has enlisted the help of The Sun to get its readers' kids educated. "This project is aimed at the children of working-class families – and The Sun is the ideal paper to publicise it because it has 10 million readers," the paper said. Ogden, himself from a working class family in Rochdale, Lancashire, was estimated to be worth over £300 million when Computacenter floated. At the time he and co-founder Philip Hume pledged to donate some of their fortune to charity. Ten schools have so far been nominated for the scholarship scheme, including Manchester Grammar and St Paul's Girls' school in London. They will admit between two and four students per year, and will match the money that is invested by the Ogden Trust. By 2001, the programme is expected to cover 40 schools across the country. ®
Novell dips its toe in freeware market
Novell has announced it will hand out free 100-user copies of its NDS directory for anyone who buys Windows 2000 server within 90 days of release or Solaris 7 before the end of January. Novell has billed the move as an aggressive attack on the still-to-be-seen Active Directory from Microsoft. However, it more clearly demonstrates the uncertainty with which Novell is now approaching the market. Having lost several key staff, particularly ex-VP and forward thinker Chris Stone, Novell is a very different animal to a year ago when its overwhelming confidence that NDS would rule the world inspired investors and analysts alike to wax lyrical. Whether things aren't going to plan or the plan itself was only clear in the minds of those no longer at the networking giant, remains uncertain. But what is clear is that a charged-for NDS is not shifting in sufficient quantities. The departure of Stone may have hurt Novell and CEO Eric Schmidt more than the company would like to admit. Schmidt's refusal to give NDS away free was reportedly one of the reasons behind the senior VP's departure. The decision to give it away (but only under certain conditions) appears to be a tacit admission that Stone may have been right all along. And so we see a nervous Novell lacking the confidence to strike out one way or another. Its new senior strategist Carl Ledbetter has taken to repeating the old NDS mantras as though they were new and hoping no one will notice. But they will, and sooner than he thinks. Unless Novell finds someone to pick up the flag and charge forward, the unthinkable may happen – NDS will falter and Microsoft will give the company its second, and possibly last, kicking. ®
Azlan recovers its roar
Azlan Group today announced it had recorded a profit in its interim results and said it was looking at training and services acquisitions. The networking distributor saw pre-tax profit of £2.4 million for the six months ended 30 September 1999, up on a loss of £400,000 million for the same period last year. Sales rose by 26 per cent to £194 million. Azlan saw healthy growth in its services business, where turnover was up 57 per cent to £1 million. Its training business saw sales up nine per cent to £3 million, while its product business grew 28 per cent to contribute £11.2 million in revenue. The company said it was still not seeing any negative impact from Y2K. And it plans to grow its training and services businesses – which jointly brought in over 10 per cent of sales – partly through acquisition. "We are pleased to announce continued progress in improving the profitability of all our operations thus underlining the strength of our pan-European business model," said Azlan chairman Barrie Morgans. Azlan CEO Peter Bertram said Azlan was looking at buying companies in its high growth areas. "I don't need another warehouse or another logistics system. What I may want are some complementary training or services business," said Bertram. The company saw turnover for the UK grow five per cent, and in France, Germany, Holland and Italy sales averaged 43 per cent higher last year. It also announced the launch of an ecommerce business-to-business system. This trading platform will be launched in the UK next month. "We believe this will have a significant impact upon the business in the medium term, as will the next important event for the training business, the launch of Microsoft's Windows 2000 operating system in February 2000," said Morgans. In January, Azlan UK was cleared by the Serious Fraud Office after an investigation into financial irregularities. ® See related story: Azlan and those Fraud Squad investigations
Big Q launches big Alpha super computer
Compaq yesterday launched a supercomputer based on its Alpha technology, and in passing, decided to kick rival Silicon Graphics in the chops. The announcement, made rather quietly, is another prelude to the release of its Wildfire technology next February. As it announced its AlphaServer SC Series, Compaq also introduced its space saving AlphaServer DS20E and a dual CPU AlphaStation. According to the Big Q, the AlphaServer SC puts the company in a position where it is a contender to sell high end systems costing over a million bucks. Compaq claimed that the Alpha chip now powers five out of the 10 most powerful machines in the known universe, and has displaced SGI from its position as market share leader in this sector. The supercomputer, said Compaq, uses 128 SMP Alpha building blocks connected together using Tru64. Terry Shannon, editor of newsletter Shannon knows Compaq, said that Compaq has been selling the CS through its custom services division since August. He commented: "A 128-node DS20 cluster has been up and running at Los Alamos National Labs for the past year, I believe they are upgrading to an ES40 cluster. "The Q is number one in midrange HPTC, not in high-end HPTC. I believe SGI (with its Alpha-based Cray T3D and T3E boxes) is top dog at the high end. "On a CPU architecture basis, Alpha is number one across the board in HPTC (thanks in part to the Cray parallel processors). "The Q in CY2000 hopes to assemble 128 32-way EV67 GS320 WildFire servers to achieve a six TeraFLOPS performance target. In 2001 or 2002 they'll cobble together a bunch of EV7 WildFires in an effort to achieve 30 TFLOPS. This effort is part of the ASCI PathForward program." Although the Big Q remains publicly committed to the Intel Merced-Itanium platform, Alpha technology is now clearly its flagship platform. That poses the question of where that leaves Compaq on the IA-64 platform. Part of the intriguing answer is that there is, as far as we know, no conceivable reason why people should not run HP/UX, Solaris and other OS on Compaq IA-64 boxes. One analyst (not our buddy Terry Shannon this time) said: "These vendors cannot put something in their operating systems to only run on their own IA-64 hardware. If they did so, it would defeat the whole purpose of the industry standard platform. Compaq will typically beat the hell out of the other vendors on pricing." ® See also Compaq Wildfire to debut February 2000
Queen's bank Coutts to fire Bristol, IOM staff
The Queen's bank, Coutts, is definitely outsourcing its IT, causing concerns about staff that will be lost and posing questions about the future of the bank, which deals with many accounts of both the very rich and very famous. Last Sunday, The Observer suggested such a move might be underway. Today, a source very close to Coutts Natwest Group showed The Register the definitive IT memo confirming the facts speculated last Sunday. According to the memo, which we have seen and which was delivered from Tony Hemming, director of IT at Coutts Natwest (CNGIT), to many IT staff at the joint banks, there will be a "number of initiatives which will result in a small number of IT positions no longer being required." Hemmings added in the memo that voluntary redundancies will be asked for first, but added that it could not be guaranteed that compulsory redundancies would be ruled out. Staff, particularly in the Bush Lane Bristol office and in the Isle of Man (IOM), are being asked today to apply for voluntary redundancies between now and the second of December, according to the memo. Further, Hemmings said, he is consulting the unions involved to see what can be done for those staff who cannot be sorted in the move. The union in question is UNIFI. Yesterday, Her Brittanic Majesty of the United Kingdom (Queen Elizabeth II), who banks at Coutts, like her sister Princess Margaret, delivered a speech on behalf of Tony Blair's government promising open government once more. Neither Coutts nor the NatWest Bank could be contacted at press time about the leaked memo. The source also showed The Register the IT roadmap ahead, although she was keen not to give us a copy. Hemmings is promising he will keep the IT staff updated on any new developments. His memo went out to the IT staff today. ®
Compaq and C&W hop on ASP bandwagon
Compaq today embarked on a $500 million agreement with Cable & Wireless to sell Internet services packages to SMEs. As revealed here earlier today, the two will roll out an application service provider (ASP) project similar to that previously announced by Hewlett Packard and Qwest. Compaq will pump $200 million into the venture, with the UK's Cable & Wireless pouring in the other $300 million to upgrade its infrastructure and data centres over the next five years. The Houston-based PC maker will supply the PCs, servers and storage hardware, with Cable & Wireless providing the services and support. The service will start on 1 January 2000 in Europe and the US, expanding to Asia Pacific during the next year, the two said today. It will incorporate Compaq's latest Web offerings, such as the iPaq Internet PC launched last week, and plans to offer a complete shrink-wrapped e-business package for SMEs. This will include supplying anything from Internet access devices to hosted business applications. Graham Wallace, Cable & Wireless CEO, said the scheme would be extended to multinationals after the first 12 months. "This move reinforces our strategy to provide business customers with Internet Protocol solutions that create real competitive advantage," said Wallace. ®
Calluna teeters on the brink
Desparate times at Calluna, the alway's jam tomorrow company, which issued a shock profit warning today. Unless it finds a buyer -- and quick -- the mini-hard disk drive manufacturer looks like it's going to go bust. Calluna's statement was prompted by a recent rise in its share price. The company is "urgently considering a range of options including entering into trade partnerships and seeking potential purchasers for the Company, its trading subsidiary or its assets". A batch of dud components meant that sales for type II drives were "well below forecast for October". This problem is now resolved, but the company's tiny cash reserves have been seriously depleted. Calluna also admits it is "currently encountering difficult trading conditions". The company has lived a hand to mouth existence for at least a couple of years. It's tapped shareholders for two rights issues. It's current difficulty is not really a surprise. You can read our article Calluna plummets on profit warning posted in February to see why.
Safe Internet Foundation launches
The Safe Internet Foundation (SIF) was launched yesterday at Keukenhof, the tulip capital of the Netherlands, as an initiative of the Dutch Internet Society.
Online banking hits the right note
Up to 10 million people in the UK could be banking over the Internet by next year - a figure far higher than any previous predictions. In an NOP survey of 1,000 adults, a surprising 41 per cent said they would use Internet banking within the next year, with 56 per cent saying they would in the next five years. A second survey found that fewer people were visiting bank branches, opting to use cash machines instead - pointing to a cultural change in the way in which we interact with our money and its keepers. Although both surveys have been highlighted by Barclays - which is shifting its business into online products - there is little doubt that the advance of technology has altered the way Joe Bloggs does his banking. Although many remain wary of purely Web-based banks with unfamiliar names, Internet banking appears to make perfect sense. We've all become used to money being represented as digital figures rather than wads of cash and the Internet simply extends the principle but with the added bonus of being able to do it in the comfort of your own home. Banks like the idea too. The Internet has the capacity to slash overheads and plans to reduce the number of branches throughout the UK are already in the offing. And with the online world likely to increase competition and so get the customer a better deal, it won't take the man in the street long to decide which option he'd rather go for. ®
Acer goes NatSemi Geode mad…
We noticed a strange confluence between top Taiwanese PC firm Acer and National Semiconductor which were both on the same platform at last June's Computex. Both Stan Shih, Acer's CEO, and Brian Halla, NatSemi's CEO, seemed to be congratulating themselves on the shared platform which might make sense given the plunging price of PCs and the microprocessors (CPUs) that power them. And so it has come to pass. NatSemi today issued a release saying that its "system on a chip device", the Geode, will form part of Acer's push into PC compliant devices for everyone from children up to geriatrics, at a reasonable price. No one from NatSemi will tell us how much a Geode II costs, but our information is that we're talking about pennies, and not dollars. So much, then, for Intel and its Timna processor. Our informants from Intel are telling us that it will be the future push for next year to replace the Celeron, while Via sources are telling us that its Winchip/Cyrix solution, will be even cheaper. Perhaps both Via and Intel have missed a window of opportunity here. ® See also Big Blue uses NatSemi Geode in Netstation Could NatSemi's SOC threaten Celeron's existence? NatSemi will announce IA chip today
AMD finally trademarks Athlon and own name
Chip company AMD has finally managed to trademark its most important intellectual property, its own name. At the same time, it has taken steps to trademark the name Athlon. Earlier this year, we revealed that AMD had somehow forgotten to take this step, and so it has moved fast to protect its rights. The trademark AMD, according to the application, covers key rings, key ring tags, pocket knives, computer mouse pads, wrist rests, water bottles, clocks, radios, watches, pens, pencils, letter openers, calculators, water bottles, letter openers, paperweights, memo clips, name badge lanyards, and briefcases. Athlon covers, in the words of its application, "computer hardware; semiconductor devices; microprocessor modules; computer subsystems; and computer software related thereto". But not basketball teams and soap dishes. Magic Packet covers switching components. So that's all right then. ® See also AMD trademarks own name
CompuServe Germany boss sees porn conviction overturned
Former-head of CompuServe in Germany, Felix Somm, has had his two-year suspended sentence for failing to block child porn sites overturned on appeal. The news has been met with relief by ISPs, providing a precedent for what would otherwise be a legal minefield for Web site hosters. Somm was convicted and fined £33,000 in May 1998 for 13 cases of aiding illegal pornography and for failure to block access to news groups hosted on CompuServe. As head of the company he was taken to be legally responsible for the sites which were "under his control". However, during appeal even the prosecution supported Somm in saying the original guilty verdict was wrong. Somm successfully argued that the sheer quantity of material passing through the company's fingers made vetting an impossibility. That does not mean ISPs are out of trouble, however. The appeal only decided that Somm's personal liability was unlawful - it fell short of saying that the ISP itself was free from responsibility over what sites under its banner contained. It remains to be seen how the law will be interpreted in future. ®
Give us two weeks and we'll review anything you want
The IT Network, the British-based product comparison database, is turning over its features and reviews-commissioning to the readers. If you want "in-depth analysis of today's IT issues, or a review of cutting-edge hardware or software", all you have to do is email editor Craig Hinton, and the IT Network team will "endeavour to have your Product Spotlight or Business Solution on IT Network.com within two weeks". This is either very ambitious or very stupid. Give it a twirl and see if it can deliver promise to supply content-on-demand. The IT Network is worth checking out from time to time for its hardware reviews. Former PCW spannerhead Ajith Ram gets stuck into the Nvidia TNT2-powered Guillemot Xentor 32 Graphics card. And he likes it. But, he cautions, graphics technology "moves at a feverish pace. Although the TNT2 chipset is still quite new, it will soon be replaced at the high-end of the market by Nvidia's own GeForce256 chipset. Therefore, if you require "cutting edge performance, it is better to adopt the successor. The full review is here.
Spammer scammer gets thrown in slammer
A British man has been arrested by Spanish police investigating a stunning scam carried out over the Internet. As with all the best scams, the man used the intricacies of human behaviour to stockpile a still-unknown amount of money.
Is Intel RIMMing i820 mobos?
Over the weekend we heard from divers sources that Intel was supplying Rambus RIMMs with the i820 and i840 motherboards it is selling its PC customers. Yesterday we reported, and it was confirmed by Intel itself, that there is no difference between the chipset on Intel i820 mobos in their Caminogate™ III rev and Caminogate II motherboards. The reports, both from Intel's channel partners and PC customers, are persuasive. According to one source, as Intel failed to discover why there was a problem with three Rambus RIMM sockets and its i820 platform, its PC customers now want the chip giant to populate the boards with memory Intel's PC customers would thus have a guarantee that boards they bought were guaranteed as qualified to work, reducing the amount of blusher on their faces if they populated the boards themselves. One source said: "Perhaps, even with two RIMM slots, failures could happen with certain combinations of types and sizes. So Intel wants to pre-load the boards to avoid the failures." An Intel representative told us: "We've no specific plans but we're continuing to work with the RIMM suppliers and to listen to our customers." He said his comments referred to boxed motherboards. So when it does happen, which member or members of the Seven Dramurai™ will wake up with a silver spoon in its mouth? Will it be Samsung memory or Micron memory? We think the public has a right to know, so when Intel starts shipping populated mobos, maybe one of our readers could have a dekko at the manufacturer for us. Robert Allen, European technology support manager at Kingston Technology, said: "The problems with Rambus wasn't because of the Intel chipset, which was great. We've been testing it with Kingston memory and it's fine." He said that the problem was to do with inferior modules "not produced to the right quality level". He said: "When they put different RIMMs in the board, there were impedance problems". He admitted that the price of Rambus RIMMs was still a little steep. He quoted a Kingston price of $1,100 for 128MB of ECC 800MHz Rambus memory, $950 for 128MB of 600MHz ECC memory. But, he said, those prices will fall. He estimated that Rambus will have eight per cent of the market early next year and as much as 50 per cent by the end of next year. Quite honestly, we're getting as fed up writing about Rambus and RIMMs as you probably are reading it, but Caminogate continues to roll thick and fast. Populate the mobos, stuffing them with RIMMs, this story has got everything... ® Intel's Rambus mobo may have memory bundled Wave of Intel mobos set to wash over world+dog The quick guide to Register jargon