Intel Spreads Viiv Message

The mantra surrounding Intel's Viiv platform at the company's recent solution provider summit was: "Making home solutions work together is the opportunity for the channel."

That phrase doesn't have the zing of the chip giant's "Intel Inside" or "Leap Ahead" branding campaigns, but it does send a much-needed message to the CE industry that the successful installation of complex technologies in the home requires the skills of digital integrators.

"We're telling them that integrators can make their overall offerings much more compelling," says Steve Dallman, Intel's director of distribution and channel sales and marketing, referring to the service providers and vendors Intel execs talk to regarding the significant role integrators play in optimizing the Viiv platform.

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In the next release of Viiv--version 1.5, which is expected early in the second half of this year--Intel will add networking and integration capabilities to make it easier to connect peripherals and distribute content. Intel also will increase Viiv channel training, which will focus as much on selling the platform as building and integrating it.

"We've designed the Viiv system to be upgradable. We'll continue to add features and that's why we think it's such a fabulous product for resellers," said Don MacDonald, vice president and general manager of Intel's digital home group, during last month's Intel Solutions Summit in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Accompanying the next version of the platform will be an initial list of Viiv-certified peripherals, all designed for optimal compatibility with Viiv systems.

Intel's Viiv strategy is based on several elements, which include ramping up the production of its dual-core processors, capturing a share of hard-core gamers from rival Advanced Micro Devices and working closely with manufacturers to design unique form factors and platforms that run quiet and cool. Intel also is aiming to drive the systems into new markets, such as education, financial and medical, and will work to promote Viiv-based home automation and control solutions that can help end users save energy or access new digital health technologies.

Although the Viiv push is still in its early stages, system builders and integrators say Intel has put in place the right steps for a fast ramp-up, one that will resonate with consumers and drive margin-rich services sales. "What Intel is doing to advance the connected home is encouraging," says Shane Yonce, CEO of CDI, an integrator and system builder in Wichita, Kan. "With Viiv you can start connecting all types of devices to the home."

Denzel Lane, president of Digital Home PC, a home integrator that was spun off from CDI, says new form factors for multimedia PCs and Intel's channel support will help system builders create innovative systems that will lead the industry in design and functionality. "Because we're so close to the end user, Intel will look to us to help guide them in what consumers really want," he says. "That's something the big OEMs can't provide."

Intel is in the early stages of marketing the Viiv platform to the channel as well as to end users. That marketing, integrators say, is greatly needed to drive general awareness of how PC-based systems can form the base of a secure and robust home and small-office network. "The channel opportunity is huge, especially where it's important to explain and sell services and integrated platforms," MacDonald says. "We have to ask, 'What can we deliver that PCs couldn't deliver a year ago?' "

While integrators generally praise Intel for taking an early leadership role to further the adoption of converged technologies in the home- and small-office markets, many others say Microsoft hasn't done enough to promote its Windows XP Media Center Edition, the operating system that runs on Viiv PCs. Several system builders at the conference, however, said both companies have improved their channel efforts since the beginning of the year.

"We've been able to get marketing funds from Microsoft. We have a great sales rep that visits us twice a month," says Tim Bentley, sales manager of East Coast Micro, a custom-system builder, integrator and distributor in Baltimore. "We barely saw our Intel rep, but we've recently gotten a new one that stops by all the time. That really helps."

Joe May, system consultant at Hi & Low Computers, a distributor and wholesaler in Hicksville, N.Y., agrees. "It's my impression that Intel and Microsoft have been much more supportive and responsive to the channel this year."

While MacDonald couldn't speak for Microsoft, he says Intel will increase its channel programs throughout the year by offering system builders and integrators free and discounted Viiv systems, marketing support for trade show booths, end-user advertising and promotions, Viiv system-building classes and other resources to drive sales.

Intel has not yet established a Viiv television campaign, but it is gearing up a print media and Web campaign that Intel expects to yield more than 1.5 million views. "Like Centrino, where we stimulated a whole market, we plan to do the same with the consumer PC," says MacDonald, who helped develop Intel's successful Centrino mobile platform. "Our consumer road map is one of the best we've ever had."

That sounds good to Bentley. "When Intel launched marketing programs for Centrino and servers, people started calling us for those technologies," he says. "People will want the Viiv systems because they can do so many different things."