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Intel Flexes Data Center Solutions Muscle As AMD Heats Up

The semiconductor giant says its Intel Select Solutions program is a major competitive differentiator in the data center market that saves partners a significant amount of time in configuring and optimizing servers for workloads ranging from hybrid cloud to AI. ‘We spend months so you don’t have to,’ an Intel rep tells CRN.

Intel said it’s gaining traction with its program for verifying and optimizing data center solutions for various workloads that can help partners save a significant amount of time and close server deals faster.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker highlighted the progress and benefits of its nearly four-year-old Intel Select Solutions program in an interview with CRN as it faces steeper competition from its x86 CPU rival, AMD, and plans to launch its next generation of Xeon Scalable processors, code-named Ice Lake.

[Related: Dell Will Use AMD, Intel, Nvidia Chips Ahead: Michael Dell]

Intel Select Solutions was formed in 2017 to make it easier for the company’s partners to build and sell solutions optimized around its portfolio of data center products, which includes Xeon processors, Optane Persistent Memory modules, solid state drives and Ethernet components.

Partners, including OEMs, system integrators and solution providers, can work with Intel to create and validate reference architectures — server recipes, essentially — for a variety of workloads, from hyperconverged infrastructure to SAP HANA. Such solutions are then marketed by Intel through its website and several other avenues, including videos and events.

Patti Shaffner Jordan, senior director for sales acceleration for data platforms marketing at Intel, told CRN in March that the company generated $1 billion in revenue from Intel Select Solutions through June of last year, which she called a “significant milestone.” By the end of 2020, the program had more than 150 verified partner solutions, she added. Combined with other programs like Intel IoT Market Ready Solutions, the company has more than 500 “ready-to-deploy” partner solutions available.

“As we see different tech inflections, whether it’s 5G, AI, intelligent edge or the cloudification of everything, we see solutions are the way to really help our partners be better positioned to meet those transformational activities,” she said.

A major advantage of Intel Select Solutions is that the program offers the “broadest set of solutions across the broadest ecosystem,” Shaffner Jordan said. The solution categories consist of hybrid cloud, AI, analytics, high-performance computing and network transformation. The solutions themselves support specific workloads from software vendors, including VMware, SAP and Nutanix, as well as broader workloads that aren’t vendor-specific, like simulation and modeling.

“Intel is really in a unique position of having all the right pieces in one place across the entire portfolio — compute, storage and networking — to help address all of the evolving challenges,” she said.

Shaffner Jordan said Intel Select Solutions is backed by a “small but mighty team” that receives support from Intel’s business units, which includes subject matter experts who can provide input on optimizing data center solutions for different workloads and, in some cases, specific verticals, like genomics.

“We really have a vast range of resources to pull from,” she said.

This means Intel is doing a lot of the groundwork that partners would typically need to do in configuring, testing and then optimizing servers for different workloads, which frees up a significant amount of time for partners, according to Shaffner Jordan.

“One of the things that we like to say to partners — and they really agree with this — is that we spend months so you don’t have to,” she said.

The result is that partners can bring solutions to customers much sooner while giving them the confidence that Intel itself has verified the solutions, Shaffner Jordan said.

“It helps give them a peace of mind and, in some cases, actually enables faster time to market and faster solution time to value,” she said, adding that customer deals can close faster as a result.

When the Intel Select Solutions team develops new solutions, it works closely with software vendors to determine the “best real-world benchmark” to showcase the performance of a specific workload on a server, according to Shaffner Jordan. In some cases, software vendors will weigh in on the configuration of the server. Intel’s subject matter experts may contribute as well.

Shaffner Jordan said her team can develop new solutions based on feedback from partners. For example, she said, her team last spring developed a new virtual desktop infrastructure solution based on VMware vSAN in a “matter of months” to address the growing need for partners to support remote work and remote learning environments in response to the pandemic.

“We launched that new solution in June of 2020, and that, to me, is just an example of us being able to move quickly,” she said. “We came up with a flexible, innovative new way that partners could quickly verify that new solution so that they could take advantage of it sooner in market.”

One channel partner that has gotten behind Intel Select Solutions is St. Louis, Mo.-based World Wide Technology, No. 9 on CRN’s 2020 Solution Provider 500 list, which has set up several solutions from the program in its Advanced Technology Center. The company has worked with customers on Intel Select Solutions involving Cisco HyperFlex, Google Cloud Anthos and Microsoft SQL Server, among others.

Matt Halcomb, a principal solutions architect at WWT, likened Intel Select Solutions to an “easy button” that can help customers solve business problems faster. He added that it can help make server deployments with customers smoother.

“You definitely don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, so being able to get a configuration of a working environment in front of a customer sooner than later, without frustrating the holy heck out of them, leads to success,” told CRN.

While the program’s solutions can be offered as complete solutions, Halcomb said they can also be customized to meet specific customer needs. But even in the case of more customized solutions, Intel has already handled 80-90 percent of the integration and optimization work, he added, which is a big deal, especially as companies have had to deal with limitations at work due to the pandemic.

“If you can give someone the easy button to be successful, i.e. an Intel Select Solution, a fully validated environment which gives you the framework to build a solution to help solve your business problem, then why not take advantage if somebody else did all the work for you?” he said.

Halcomb said Intel Select Solutions gives the chipmaker a unique competitive advantage as it faces greater competition from AMD, which is leaning into the solutions approach with its new third-generation EPYC processors. He added that an important differentiator for Intel Select Solutions is how it lets partners take advantage of Intel’s non-CPU products, like Optane Persistent Memory and SSDs.

“Enabling our customers to be successful to buy more products, it’s a good way to go,” he said.

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