Intel: Innovator Of The Year

From the big--the Intel Modular Server--to the small--its Atom processor-- Intel Corp. has had a heck of a year.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip giant has epitomized IT innovation in 2008, sparking a new way of thinking about the data center for small and midsize businesses and enabling an entirely new class of technology--the netbook. In a year in which the industry saw more companies push the envelope, Intel pushed it further.

This year, VARBusiness is naming Intel its Innovator of the Year. We like a lot of the innovation we've seen in 2008, but in this case it wasn't even close.

The year began with the launch of Intel's Modular Server. This was a big deal for several reasons: Intel had decided that higher-end, more expensive and complex blade solutions were just wrong for a wide swath of the marketplace. Small and midsize businesses, in many cases, didn't need to take on the expense of designing and building data centers with new management and administration considerations. They didn't need IT solutions that called for rebuilding or redeploying the power and electricity model of a data center, for example. They just needed a scalable, easy-to-mount server and networking solution that could be snapped into a data center like a Lego block.

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Intel could have simply "dumbed down" a blade solution, stripped out some functionality and power, and marketed it to the channel as an SMB blade. A company with Intel's scale and size might have even gotten away with it. But Intel engineers and executives took a chance in late 2007, pulled its blade lineup for the system builder channel and then earlier this year delivered the Mod Server: a rackable, 200-pound box that can accommodate six dual- or quad-core servers with a capacity of up to 2 TB of on-board storage. In addition, Intel integrated Layer 2 switches into the system. The design gives VARs the ability to deliver more cost-effective, but powerful, solutions to small and midsize accounts.

"This is a very innovative product," said Stan Jensen, president of Associated Data Products, Shreveport, La. It's also one that allows the channel to help smaller customers grow in ways they could not just a year ago.

In the Test Center lab, the Modular Server was an eye-opener. Not only were its throughput and performance strong, but its thermal management, efficiency and IT management console meant collapsing administrative costs and overhead while eliminating--instead of adding--complexity. Had Intel opted for providing the channel with a stripped-down blade server platform, everybody would have missed a great opportunity. Intel made a tougher choice, but an innovative one, to everybody's benefit.

Then there's the Atom, Intel's new brand targeted primarily at smaller devices like handhelds and, now, the emerging segment of netbooks. Because of its design, the Atom makes longer battery life possible and smaller devices run cooler. So far, testing in the Test Center labs has affirmed those claims, as has the market at large.

Manufacturers ranging from Hewlett-Packard Co. to Dell Inc. to AsusTek Computer Inc. are now trumpeting their ultramobile PCs and netbooks to a waiting market.

While the Atom CPUs aren't really capable of multitasking or performing higher-end functions like with the broader dual-core and quad-core parts of Intel's lineup, they can provide just enough horsepower for single-function or single-tasking devices. As 2008 comes to an end, manufacturers are beginning to signal that we will see the emergence of appliances and network devices that deploy Atom chips to reach new levels of efficiency and cost-competitiveness.

We can't overlook Intel's Core 2 quad lineup of CPUs with four cores, either. Though officially launched last year, Intel has come to market with increasingly lower-cost, four-core processors that, when combined with 3 GB or 4 GB of memory, manage to overcome many of the performance hurdles that VARs and system builders have faced with Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Vista operating system for desktops.

For anything, or anyone, to save an operating system that many considered dead on arrival for business in the channel, an award is really in order. For Intel this year, that means providing it with the Innovator of the Year title.