IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Compaq Computer are working on an improved PCI specification for imminent release.
The three companies have reportedly developed a specification dubbed "PCIx" that would increase the technology bandwidth and throughput speeds in a computer system.
"That's right," said a source with one of the companies, who requested anonymity. "They've worked on it for quite a while, almost a year."
The source said that several trends compelled the Big Three to move in concert, not the least of which was Dell Computer 's rise in recent months.
"This is targeted against Dell. This is technology from companies who are serious about R&D," the source said.
"Dell wants to be an HP or IBM," the source continued. "But you can't move up in the enterprise if you can't develop the technology."
But Dell spokesman Jim Mazolla said that "Dell has built a successful business around bringing industry standards to market quickly, and there is no need for us to alter that business model."
"If others want to follow the old vertical integration model, that's their decision," Mazolla said. "Dell has been successful in eating through their market share."
The three companies hope their move will enable them to differentiate their Intel Corp.-based servers from those offered by high-volume direct vendors such as Dell and Gateway (2000), and the move could alter the shape of the Wintel market going forward, the source said.
"If NT servers are commoditised, there is very little differentiation between vendors," the source said.
"Look at Dell, (and other) technology 'have-nots.' They follow Intel," the source continued. "If we can bring to bear our R&D in the important server space, then truly there is a distinction in buying from these (three) companies."
But an industry source at a major direct sales original equipment manufacturer scoffed at such a view, and said the Big Three cannot necessarily differentiate themselves in the Wintel server space this way.
"They are seeing commodity-based technology being the equal of what they have and as a result it causes them to lose market power and margin, and they want more control," said the source.
"It's a case of the old guard protecting the old ways of doing things," the source continued. "It is back to the old days of 'my technology is better than your technology.' "
Representatives from IBM and Compaq expressed surprise and dismay that their initiative had been uncovered before their official announcement, which may take place as early as next week. HP refused to comment. Intel officials were not available for comment.
One vendor of Wintel machines -- or systems that combine one of Microsoft's Windows operating systems with Intel microprocessors -- looked at the Big Three's consortium with trepidation.
"We are (a) little concerned because they are going to use it as a competitive advantage, which suggests it would not be an open standard. That is not good for anyone in the industry," said Jeff Broughton, Amdahl manager of server marketing.
"We need to move the performance of PCI upward, and if they open it up and allow others to utilise it, that could potentially be a good thing," Broughton continued. "But a private consortium is not necessary."
Hewlett-Packard, in Palo Alto, California, can be reached on the Web at http://www.hp.com/. IBM, in Armonk, New York, can be reached at http://www.ibm.com/. Compaq, in Houston, can be reached at http://www.compaq.com/.