Intel Notebook: CEO Unfazed by Exodus Threat in Server Farm Niche

At the Intel Developers Forum, CEO Barrett passes on the sushi but offers some tidbits on the server farm business, Rambus and more.
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PALM SPRINGS -- Intel (INTC) - Get Report CEO Craig Barrett, like his company, sidesteps risk.

Sitting down with reporters at the

Intel Developers Forum

, Barrett chatted over a spread of sushi at the

Otani

restaurant. Perhaps thinking of ex-President

George Bush's

retch-heard-round-the-world sushi encounter, Barrett shunned the raw fish, grabbing instead a skewer of grilled chicken teryaki on his way out.

In chatting too, Barrett avoids risks. When a reporter from the

Oregonian

newspaper fished in frustration for at least one headline-grabbing new tidbit, Barrett joked about the tight leash the company's media relations department keeps him on. "I'm well trained," he said.

But Barrett was forthcoming on several aspects of Intel's business:

On Server Farms

: Watch for competition in the market for Web hosting to get ugly. In April, Intel announced that it would build

data centers, or server farms, to host Internet businesses for small and medium-sized businesses.

Exodus

(EXDS)

is already doing such hosting for companies, including

The Street.com

(TSCM)

. At the time, Intel said it had no plans to compete head on with Exodus, but concentrate on a different market niche. But as Exodus continues to expand, a showdown seems more likely. Does that worry Barrett?

"Is that a serious question?" Barrett responds with a facial expression that can be translated as "Pishaw!" "If I was worried about being in the same space, we would not have entered into it," he said. But, a reporter points out, Exodus is the established player and Intel is the newcomer, a position the company is not used to being in. "It's a new field for everyone," Barrett said. "If you look at the revenues Exodus generates, they aren't exactly advanced in size or scope."

On Controversial Rambus (RMBS) - Get Report memory vs. competing SDRAM memory:

"We still look at

Rambus as the next big development in DRAM technology," he said to reporters after his keynote address. Its progress is a little slower than we thought. There probably will be some extension of the SDRAM family." Rambus, he added, "is a big step. The industry needs a big step, not small steps over and over and over."

Earlier, Patrick Gelsinger, general manager of Intel's desktop products group, demonstrated a system using Intel's upcoming Rambus-based Camino chipset. He ran a graphics program that showed a detailed 3-D tour of a building. He boasted its 40-frames-per-second performance, 30% faster speed than a non-Rambus system.

But Bert McComas, an analyst at technology research firm

InQuest

and a vocal Rambus critic, points out that the system Gelsinger showed off used an AGP 4X graphics chip, which few, if any, systems currently use. "No game, no content uses AGP in that way," McComas said.

Addressing the competing PC133 SDRAM, Gelsinger said, "We work with the memory industry and suppliers here on all memory technologies."

Not exactly a rousing endorsement for Rambus, but concerns persist in the industry about the rollout of Rambus-designed chips. A spokesman from

Hyundai

said he doesn't expect Rambus memory to be produced in high volume next year and that high volume production in 2001 was "questionable." That's not good, considering the Rambus chips will be expensive. Rambus DRAMs will cost 30% more than SDRAMs next year, said a representative from

Samsung Semiconductor

.

Other knowledgeable sources here at the IDF say to watch for some demonstrations of revolt against Rambus later this week, particularly from makers of servers.

On Vacation

: When someone who heads a company with more than two dozen manufacturing plants around the world wants to get away, where does he go?

Barrett's answer: the Russian tundra. Barrett recently took a helicopter flight out to Russia's hinterlands, where he and a friend were dropped down to a river and hiked upstream to fly fish to their hearts content. When the helicopter returned a few days later, they were in a canyon so narrow the helicopter had to tilt to descend in low enough to land.

"I was talking to

IBM

(IBM) - Get Report

CEO Lou Gerstner and he was surprised that my security department let me go," Barrett recalled. "I said, 'I never told them.'"

On Easy-to-Use PCs:

This is what it takes for the computer industry to give priority to developing computers that don't require tech support teams to keep them from crashing: Barrett, who has a screen saver of 20 different scenes of his Montana cattle ranch, described how he tried unsuccessfully to load the photos onto his wife's laptop computer. "I finally used the hammer approach," he said. "I am going to buy her a new laptop."

That's not all. He bought a digital camera and took a full load of shots, but could he get them onto his computer? "I have yet to see a single picture," he said. "This stuff is not user friendly, am I right?"