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February 21, 1999

SERVER STANDARDIZATION COULD USHER IN PC ECONOMICS

By CBR Staff Writer

The Server System Infrastructure agreement set to be announced by the major vendors of Intel servers tomorrow (Tuesday), has been a year in the making, and is setting out to standardize the manufacturer of servers in a similar way to the desktop PC market. Eight server OEMs – Compaq Computer Corp, Data General Corp, Dell Computer Corp, Hewlett-Packard Co, Intel Corp, Micron Electronics Inc, NEC Corp and Silicon Graphics Inc – have formed the overgroup of the SSI Forum, and ultimately vote on the proposals. Intel is funding the group and Brent Mower of Intel is the chairman. At the Intel Developer Forum this week, a working draft of the specification will be published. OEMs were apparently frustrated at having to re-design and build server packaging with every new product generation, a process which typically took around a year. Power supplies and electronic bays – the physical space in the server chassis allotted to the motherboard, including microprocessor, memory, I/O and related chipsets – the areas with the longest lead times and greatest associated expense, are the first to be tackled by SSI. Power supplies are a prime candidate, says Mower. There is little or no end-user benefit to servers using multiple types of power supplies, particularly form factors. They just want it to be reliable. Yet every OEM has a custom supplier for every sector of the market. The first SSI-compliant power supplies could be included within systems as soon as the third quarter of this year. Mower says that many of the power supply manufacturers already have SSI components on their product roadmaps, and that they will benefit as well, through volume efficiencies made by shipping more of a single type of supply. But the move is also likely to create fierce competition in server power supplies, similar to that in the PC market. Electronic bay standardization is still under discussion. Aside from the eight principals, around 100 other firms have contributed to the draft proposal, a combination of server OEMs, power supply makers and chassis manufacturers. Even non-Intel server maker Sun Microsystems Inc has been a contributor and is watching the progress. Advocates point to the boost the establishment of the ATX standard board form factor had on the PC and low-end server market. The NLX high-end PC effort has been less spectacular, and it’s too early to tell about the success of the WTX workstation board, chassis and power supply specifications. But server makers, looking enviously at the PC mass-market, hope they can establish something along the same lines.

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