Intel’s next target market looks to be networking

Intel is now shipping its ready-for-prime time low power Atom system on a chip, and at a media event on Wednesday detailed the 13 different products made using the Atom C2000 SoC. Those products are directed at a range if different devices, from micro servers to low-end switches.

Intel(s intc) also announced an integrated silicon photonics cable for connecting dense servers generally used in webscale environments as well as an Atom designed for the wireless equipment business. There are two big Intel strategies coming to light with the announcements made at this event. One is that since the data center is the computer (Google said this five years ago) Intel finally has a chip that can power the storage, compute and the networking elements in a few specific situations.

And the other realization is that Intel’s dreams of getting into the wireless communications market are real and that it looks like it is auditioning for a role as Ericsson’s architectural partner as the company deploys the next generation of radio access networks. Ericsson will ship Atom-based switches to its telecom customers.

Intel’s Diane Bryant detailed several webscale-specific use cases for the new Atom part from accelerating memcached to cold-storage and also said that Intel had more than 50 partners building products using the new parts, more than double the number of partners that were building something using the generation Atom part dubbed Centerton.

This jibes with what sources have told me. Many thought Centerton was underpowered and lame, but were willing to look at Avoton, the code-name for this part, because the compute and networking would be better integrated on the SoC. The result is a part that has seven times the performance and six times better performance per watt — although Intel didn’t give hard numbers.

Intel is even introducing an entry-level switch built using this SoC. Bryant says that off the more than 50 partners using the SoC 10 of them were converting from a different architecture over to x86. Those alternative architectures are significant because they signal that Intel’s gaining some ground with the networking and storage space.


Storage and networking are also areas where Intel rival ARM wants to entrench its chips. When Intel said that Chinese web company Baidu was using its new Atom SoC for storage, my eyebrows rose because Baidu is also using ARM-based chips for storage. This could be an example of the future of heterogeneous environments in the data center, or it could be a case of Intel trying to make a customer out of a test case.

Either way, this is a competitive entry for Intel as it fights off newcomers using ARM in servers and tries to expand to other parts of the data center. As for its efforts to exit the data center and build a partnership with Ericsson’s wireless infrastructure that’s something to keep an eye on.

Ericsson’s rivals have already announced silicon partners for their cloud-based radio access networks with NSN using Texas Instruments silicon and Alcatel Lucent building out infrastructure using Freescale’s chips. If Ericsson decides to go deep with Intel, then that opens Intel up in a big way to this market and new competitors.

And speaking of competitors, with its silicon photonics news and low-end switch, it’s possible that Intel is going to try to undercut Cisco(s csco) in a big way on the networking side. Cisco’s optical interconnects are a huge source of margin for the networking vendor, and depending on the specs and price of Intel’s entry here, those margins might be in danger.

Basically, the technological disruption of the data center is over. Now we’re getting to the FUD and marketing parts of the story. Wake me when we have customer deployments.