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Bottleneck Buster Gathers Support

This week, two vendors announced roadmaps for products based on Infiniband, a server bus created by Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) that could increase the throughput and efficiency of optical networks.

Yesterday, Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU) unveiled a system chip based on Infiniband. And today, Emulex Corp. (Nasdaq: EMLX) announced an adapter that will link Infiniband servers to Fibre Channel SAN gear from Emulex.

Neither product will ship for months to come. But they are still significant to optical networking for two reasons: First, Infiniband promises to help servers and workstations, which are broadband bottlenecks today, become full participants in the upcoming optical bandwidth boom. And second, some sources, including Intel, Compaq Computer Corp. (NYSE: CPQ), and Dell Computer Corp. (Nasdaq: DELL), think Infiniband could ultimately provide an alternative to Fibre Channel and 10-Gbit/s Ethernet as a short-range link in data centers and central offices.

Today's PCI-based computers, including those running inside routers and switches and those used as server platforms in central offices, are typically limited to handling traffic at a maximum rate of just over 4 Gbit/s. According to Intel, Infiniband will replace this old-fashioned I/0 with a multichannel interface capable of handling from 500 Mbit/s to 6 Gbit/s -- with faster speeds to come.

Intel has built a bandwagon on Infiniband. It's gotten fellow systems vendors Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HWP) and Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW) into its camp, as well as broadband heavyweights Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR), Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), and Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/TSE: NT). So far, these and about 175 other companies have joined a consortium called the Infiniband Trade Association to promote the cause.