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Atom Faces A Changing Landscape
Beyond those platforms, Intel’s Atom platform may have been victimized by disruption elsewhere in the market with the introduction of tablets and other devices, at least one channel executive says.
“In terms of Atom, it’s true that netbook sales fell short of expectations,” said Erik Stromquist, COO of Computer Technology Link, a Portland, Ore.-based solution provider. “But Atom for us in general notebooks sales dropped off, but with innovative solutions like tablet and touch-enabled convertible devices led to the growth of the Atom product line.”
Yet another perspective within the channel holds that Intel’s new processors include several advantages that could bolster channel sales, and that ultimately it’s up to the channel resellers to offer solutions that will succeed in the marketplace.
As for the performance of Atom products in 2010, Steve Brown, vice president of sales and business development at Blue Hawk Networks, a Campbell, Calif.-based system builder, said he does not expect that particular trend to continue. “Intel has learned from the lack of success in last year’s go-around,” he said. “Considering both they should fare much better with Sandy Bridge.”
Intel’s partners have noticed the shift in Intel’s strategy toward original design manufacturers. Stromquist said Sandy Bridge has a much better chance at doing well in the microprocessor market compared to previous generations of Intel processors.
“Intel has done a lot of heavy lifting to improve the ODM ecosystem and address the price gap between Tier 1 and Channel OEMs,” Stromquist said. “The burden really lies on the channel to innovate and offer competitive solutions to meet the changing market needs. It’s more than the processor that makes the price. It’s a whole ecosystem with the chassis and a whole environment.”
Others see this shift in strategy as a potential source of channel conflict as resellers look to find ways to continue to add value to Intel’s solutions. Todd Swank, vice president of marketing at Nor-Tech, a Burnsville, Minn.- based system builder, said that with this new approach, Intel may no longer consider the reseller channel to be relevant.
“What you’re seeing in the marketplace is a switch toward mobile, smaller form-factor devices, so it makes sense to shift toward ODMs,” Swank said. “The days of guys creating solutions in their shops, and the days of system builders building thousands of client-based PCs in the U.S. are already numbered. It’s over and done with. Most system builders have had to change their strategy toward providing managed services, cloud solutions or reselling to Tier 1s -- but selling mobile solutions through the channel? That seems like a dead conversation at this point.”
Swank referred to the events of CES 2011 earlier this month, and the excitement surrounding Android devices. He said Microsoft must feel threatened by the presence of another OS, just as Intel must feel the looming threat of British chip design firm ARM, whose Cortex CPU core architecture is the basis for Apple’s A4 processor as well as Nvidia’s Tegra 2 mobile chipset. Meanwhile, he said channel resellers are feeling the most pressure of anyone in the supply chain.
“You have new players in the arena,” Swank said. “Verizon and Motorola are doing tablets. Nontraditional PC manufacturers are in a space where system builders were just competing with HP, IBM and Dell before. Now they compete with telephone companies and with new solutions. There are opportunities for system builders in this space, absolutely, but the things we’re selling today are very different from five years ago.”
Furthermore, Intel’s Atom-based products may offer system builders and end users additional flexibility, especially the configurable Atom processors Intel launched last year, but Dallman said he sees the system builder channel steering away from components and moving more toward designing PC-based solutions.
“System builders take PC-type products and build PC solutions and some vertical solutions off of PCs. I haven’t seen a lot of them want to go down to the board level in terms of programming the CPU for specific I/P and services and whatnot,” Dallman said. “We’re seeing so many designs right now, including 3,800 different engagements and 1,500 design wins. System builders will resell products that these Atom products are in.”
Dallman added that Intel had only reached the “tip of the iceberg” as far as the possibilities for its Atom product lineup. It may, in fact, be too early to tell how far down the iceberg sits, as many system builders haven’t had a chance to get their hands on it yet, even though it stands to reason that an improved economy will make it easier to resell any product.
“We have not worked with Sandy Bridge at all yet,” said Michael Rathburn, senior technical specialist at Applied Systems Associates, a Murrysville, Pa.-based solution provider. “We have used Atom processors in some industrial panel PCs that we have sold. They worked well and did so at a low voltage and stayed fairly cool, which was important. All of Intel’s offerings will probably do better this year as the economy improves.”
Despite the anticipated success of Sandy Bridge, one Intel partner offered a long-term corrective to a problem that may be caused by Intel’s adherence to a “tick-tock” strategy, whereby products are brought to market based on a strict, fast-paced road map that may not be suited for a bearish economy.
“If Intel were to launch a series of Sandy Bridge-based Atom platforms that are available for two or more years, as they do on some of their server and workstation platforms, and with a better price-to-functionality ratio, they will definitely do well in the channel,” said the partner, a system builder who asked not to be named.
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