Intel Channel Chief Reinforces Commitment To Partners Amid Company's Strategic Shift

As Intel shifts its strategy to become more of a cloud, data center and connectivity source, partners play a more important role now than ever, channel executive Maurits Tichelman told CRN on Thursday.

"Intel remains … extremely committed and continues to invest in the channel," said Tichelman, the vice president who oversees Intel's channel sales and marketing. "There should be absolutely no confusion in terms of Intel’s strategy going forward. The role of the channel to me and to Intel is more important going forward than looking backward."

Tichelman laid out what he said were those potential opportunities involving partners: "Looking at IoT and data center, there are many more new business models being developed where Intel technology can be at the core and heart of solutions," he said, "but we want to make sure that our channel stays close to us so we can learn from our channel and can keep developing great products, not only for today but for the future."

[Related: Partners Cheer Intel Executive's Call For Company To 'Win' In Internet Of Things]

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CEO Brian Krzanich in April said the data center and the Internet of Things would be the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company's future as it aims to lessen dependence on the PC market, to "create lasting value for our customers, partners and shareholders, and achieve our mission to lead in a smart, connected world."

The shift in strategy is in part because of a stagnant PC market: Intel last quarter lowered its PC market expectations, saying it expects the market to decline in the high single digits in 2016 -- more than earlier expectations.

Meanwhile, the company's data center segment, which grew 9 percent year over year in the first quarter, as well as its Internet of Things segment, which grew 22 percent year over year, are lucrative markets.

Tichelman said Intel's focus on these areas can only be positive for the channel, as many partners have already undergone a "natural evolution" into embedded compute areas and cloud computing capabilities that power IoT and the data center.

"To me, this is encouraging to us as a channel organization that this strategy will potentially boost and demonstrate the potential of the channel," he said. "We have seen many partners evolving in looking at what else they can do with the IT knowledge that they have. We've seen a natural evolution of many of our customers' expanding their capabilities and going into embedded compute areas, and embedded compute to IoT is a very natural evolution."

The partner interest in lucrative IoT and data centers is prevalent -- according to an Intel survey, more than 70 percent of Intel's partners are offering managed services, which Tichelman said is "one key indicator that strengthens the belief that the channel is essential to the overall data center build-out."

The study also revealed that more than 65 percent of partners are offering cloud capabilities to their customers. And out of Intel’s 150,000-strong partner base, the study said, 25,000 partners stated that they are already involved in some way in the IoT business.

Going forward in 2016, Tichelman said, Intel will continue to help partners pinpoint opportunities for profit in the data center and IoT segments.

For instance, Intel will continue its rollout of high-performance computing (HPC) and cloud specialty benefits, which give recognition to and reward partners that meet certain requirements in those segments, as well as make sure it is "activating" partners with Intel-based technology in the IoT space.

Martin Smekal, president and CEO of Torrance, Calif.-based Intel partner TabletKiosk, said he feels "cautiously optimistic" about Intel's future as a cloud and data center source, and what that implies for the channel.

"Brian Krzanich has made the right move, and I agree with his direction," said Smekal. "The cloud is huge. ... You need data center to back cloud, and that involves service centers, areas where we can make margin in the channel. I also like the fact that he's focusing on IoT. It's slow and it's still developing, but overall, it's a positive as a whole for the channel."