Server Bus Standards Merged

Future I/O and Next Generation I/O (NGIO), the two groups behind competing specifications for the next generation of I/O bus architecture, have merged their standards into one unified industry architecture that will eventually replace the existing shared bus I/O architecture. In a press release dated August 31, 1999, the seven major companies behind these initiatives (Compaq, Dell, HP, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems) decided that creating a single specification was in the best interest of both consumers and the participating parties. This new collaboration will create an industry group to finish off the details of the consolidation. Known as System I/O, the new specification will be the next generation of the server bus architecture that will appear in systems ranging from workgroup servers to enterprise-class servers. System I/O will provide a common system area network fabric that will enable conventional server I/O and interprocessor communications between servers in parallel clusters. This architecture sets the stage to provide multi-channel system architecture to next-generation storage systems and much faster I/O to other network devices. The new specification will specify aggregate bandwidth standards of 500MBps, 2GBps, and 6GBps at a 2.5Gbps wire signal rate. The new standard will provide an upgrade path to faster bus speeds over time using high-performance interconnects and other products. The multichannel, switched-fabric construction and the associated new protocols promise higher availability and reliability over current technologies for servers and peripheral devices. According to the announcement, the System I/O group anticipates that the first products based on the merged standard will appear in 2001. The group also announced that it will host an event in late September or early October to detail the new standard and seek industry input into its development. At the low end of server performance, the new standard looks more like NGIO than Future I/O. Intel was pushing for a commodity approach to a new bus standard to keep costs down, keep the technology open and nonproprietary, and provide for a upgrade through the PCI-X, the extension to the PCI standard. The System I/O group has not yet disclosed the fate of PCX-I. At the high end of server performance, the new standard will incorporate Sun's Fat Pipes architecture, which the group expects will add significant performance. This new System I/O standard won’t likely appear until after Intel’s Merced chip ships and probably until after McKinley (Intel's next-generation 64-bit chip after Merced) ships as well. Current estimates place these products in the early 2001 time frame, about the time Intel’s Foster chip might appear.

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