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Intel counters Nvidia's Mellanox buy with data-center technology of its own

Intel Corp. has developed a data-center connector technology that could speed up artificial intelligence and cloud operations and announced it on the same day Nvidia Corp. boosted its data-center offerings in a proposed $6.9 billion deal to acquire Mellanox Technologies Ltd.

A new consortium has been formed to develop a technology called Compute Express Link, or CXL, which will allow chips to communicate faster. The focus is on short-range communications between chips inside computers.

Some partners involved in the development of CXL include server makers Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. and Dell EMC and communications-focused companies Cisco Systems Inc. and Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. Also on board are companies with some of the world's largest data centers, including Google LLC, Facebook Inc., Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Microsoft Corp.

Intel will use the technology in server chips starting in 2021. Other companies are developing their own products, Jim Pappas, director of technology initiatives at Intel, said in an interview.

Faster communication in chips is important for tasks like instant image or voice recognition, Pappas said.

Google and Facebook are heavily investing in artificial intelligence to boost their cloud offerings, and linking up CXL into servers will provide faster response times.

Right now the technology is focused on servers, but it could come to cars and other devices equipped with chips for artificial intelligence, Pappas said.

Nvidia is not a member of the initiative, but Pappas said anyone is welcome to join the organization and adopt CXL. Mellanox's technology focuses on long-distance communications between computers in data centers, while the CXL specification focuses on speeding up internal computer communication.

Nvidia probably knew the CXL technology was coming and went after Mellanox to offset research and development costs and time-to-market competing with Intel on high-speed interconnects, said Jon Peddie, president at Jon Peddie Research, which offers statistics, trends and reports on the computer industry.

Intel wants Nvidia graphics processors to attach to CXL, Peddie said. CXL could be applied for faster communication between central processing units, graphics processors, artificial intelligence and other accelerators.