Intel is overlooking the economic slowdown as it launches a worldwide network of joint e-business labs in a bid to spark demand for server computers based on its latest Pentium chips. The semiconductor giant expects to push into fresh markets, where vendors of Risc (reduced instruction set computing) processor-based servers, such as Sun Microsystems, have taken the lead. According to Intel officials, half of the 30 planned joint e-business labs will be set up in the Asia-Pacific in the next few weeks. One of the first was launched by Intel in Hong Kong last week, with local partners Automated Systems Holdings (ASL), iMerchants and Jardine OneSolution. The joint labs form part of Intel's accelerated technology deployment programme, which encourages companies to develop, optimise and deploy e-business systems that run on advanced Pentium processors. The Internet's infrastructure relies on server-based computer networks, which also allow business activities to be conducted online. 'Our role is to enable companies to compete in the global e-business marketplace with our technologies,' said John Davies, director of the semiconductor firm's Intel architecture solutions channels group. 'We work with solution providers - such as iMerchants, ASL and Jardine OneSolution - to create profitable and efficient e-business environments.' He said that while technology companies may face slower demand for certain products, expansion of the Internet would continue to drive productivity, new forms of communication and entirely new product categories, and now was the time to invest in that growth. Quoting industry estimates, Intel officials said e-business was the key to sustaining the US$5.3 trillion electronic commerce market in 2005. They said the industries which were moving online, and were the main focus for support by the joint e-business labs, included banking and finance, telecommunications and manufacturing. Intel claims servers based on its advanced Pentium processor architecture, unlike Risc-based systems, are produced in high volume by more hardware vendors who compete in both features and price. 'We offer a range of choices from multiple vendors - whether it be Dell, Compaq, HP, or IBM - to help guarantee customers' smooth transition to our Itanium processor and others in our product road map,' said Tom Burns, director of Intel's Internet solutions group in the Asia-Pacific. 'We also have a large playing field, where we have relationships with thousands of solutions providers, like systems integrators, and tens of thousands of dealers around the world through our reseller programmes.' According to preliminary results released by research firm International Data Corp (IDC), fourth-quarter server sales last year in the Asia-Pacific, excluding Japan, surged 32 per cent to post record revenues of US$1.79 billion. Servers powered by Intel's advanced Pentium chips, either running Linux or Windows, contributed the most revenue among all server types, IDC said. Vernon Turner, IDC's vice-president of global enterprise server solutions, said: '[Intel-based servers] enable horizontal scaling of the Internet infrastructure and are experiencing tremendous demand.' IDC divides the server market into three categories - high-end (end-user price more than US$1 million), mid-range (end-user price between US$100,000 and US$1 million), and entry (end-user price less than US$100,000). It was in the entry category where Sun's Risc-based servers had been leading other vendors, IDC said. IBM, Compaq and HP also make Risc-based servers, which can run Linux and the various flavours of the Unix operating system. Avneesh Saxena, associate director of server research at IDC Asia-Pacific said that although a slowdown in server demand was expected this year, the firm expected a greater demand for servers from existing and new users due to falling prices, greater competition, newer technology and shorter life cycles.