Key Intel Partners Weigh In On New Whitebook Push

a new lineup of whitebook products

"First of all, hats off to Intel for not giving up. They recognize that the world's going mobile and the channel has got to be competitive here or there won't be a channel in the future," said Erik Stomquist, executive vice president of CTL, a Portland, Ore.-based system builder that ships tens of thousands of PCs and servers a year.

CTL is already ready with its own branded version of the new 13.3-inch ultra-thin Spring Peak notebook design, which the longtime Intel partner will sell into the SMB space under its 2go PC label, Stomquist said. A more standard-issue 15.6-inch notebook based on Intel-authorized Spring Peak building blocks is set to follow later in the year.

Spring Peak was announced this week as part of Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel's big unveiling of its fourth-generation vPro platform for business-class desktops and notebooks.

Intel's whitebook efforts have endured numerous twists and turns in recent years. The company has tried with mixed results to develop a partner ecosystem for white-label laptops that approached the vibrancy of the desktop and server business that has delivered Intel and its channel partners so much growth over the years.

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As Intel tweaked its whitebook program in the face of frustrating outcomes, many partners felt a sense of taking two steps forward just to take a couple back.

Intel found it difficult to police components makers and ensure the sure and steady delivery of standardized notebook building blocks to whitebook builders -- and more difficult still to help partners remain competitive on price as they squared off against globally positioned PC manufacturing giants and their economies of scale.

Those challenges remain, said Kent Tibbils, vice president of marketing at Intel whitebook partner ASI. But Spring Peak could illuminate a path forward for several reasons.

A key part of the new product offering is a docking station that works for both the 13.3-inch and 15.6-inch notebooks -- something Tibbils said finally puts Intel's channel partners on equal footing with the Tier 1 OEMs selling into business IT environments.

"A dock is one of the elements resellers have been asking for, you know, for years," he said. "We've had USB replicators and so forth, but if you want to go right to the heart of benefits we need to be able to offer in a product, a docking station is a huge one. We need the product to fit into the SMB space, but be versatile enough to sell into other parts of the market as well."

The Spring Peak dock also allows for the kind of customization that is bread-and-butter business for the system builder channel, Tibbils said. It houses an optical disk drive -- a necessary feature given that the 13.3-inch ultra-thin notebook has no ODD. Whitebook builders can install different types of drives to suit their customers' needs, including Blueray and read-only drives.

"Another big thing for us is that the product has a nice, consistent family look to it," Tibbils said. "Prior to this, resellers would have two or three very different looking notebooks across their basic 13-inch, 14-inch and 15-inch offerings."

Stomquist said he also appreciated the look of Spring Peak, calling it "a big improvement" over past whitebooks and crediting Intel for its efforts to influence the final design.

But will Spring Peak really pave the path to a whitebook wonderland? Tibbils admitted that many Intel partners would be wary of celebrating too soon.

"Hey, we hear it from the integrators and the VARs that we talk to -- they have long memories," he said. "They remember Intel's first attempt [at whitebooks], the second, the third attempt. And we say that with every attempt Intel is re-upping on their commitment to this. And the important thing, as always, is that they can't just give us a knock-off of what the Tier 1's offer."