Intel Announces Compute Express Link High Speed Chip Interconnect For Data Centers

Intel Cannon Lake
Earlier this morning, we reported that NVIDIA snapped up Israeli chip firm Mellanox for $6.9 billion in an effort to bolster its pursuits in the high-performance computing market. For those not in the know, Mellanox specializes in high-performance data interconnects -- namely InfiniBand -- which is used in most of today's supercomputers and hyperscale data centers.

An interesting wrinkle to this story is that Intel was also reportedly in talks to purchase Mellanox, but lost out to NVIDIA in the end. So, Intel is looking to grab some attention of its own in this space with the announcement that it is leading a consortium that will spearhead the continued development of the Compute Express Link (CXL) interconnect.

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CXL is the brainchild of Intel, and the initial open specification for the interconnect is being "donated" to its consortium members which include Microsoft, Google, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Dell EMC and Cisco (among others). 

While Intel wasn't successful in its bid for Mellanox, its rejected offer for the company was seen by many industry analysts as a defensive move to ward off an insurgency from the likes of NVIDIA and AMD with regards to InfiniBand technology. But Intel is angling CXL as a far superior solution "delivering CPU/device memory coherence, reduced complexity on the device, and an industry-standard physical and electrical interface together in a single technology for the best plug-and-play experience."

CXL Logo RGB

Intel envisions that CXL will be used as a low-latency interface between a CPU and other critical computing components like GPUs, FPGAs and network adapters. And with an increasing appetite in the industry for computationally-intensive workloads like artificial intelligence, encryption and image processing, Intel says that CXL represents a huge leap forward over existing solutions.

"As pioneers to some of the most successful protocols in computing, Intel constantly evaluates how new advancements such as CXL can benefit the entire tech ecosystem," writes Navin Shenoy, Intel's executive vice president and general manager of the Data Center Group. "Our experience in driving robust open ecosystems has proved to create unprecedented industry-wide innovation, resulting in broad commercial success and end-customer benefits."

According to Intel, the first-generation spec for CXL will be presented to consortium members within the next few months, while the first devices to ship with CXL technology onboard will arrive next year.

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