In the Blue corner

In the wake of the Intel Solutions Summit, Andrew Wooden talks to UK and Ireland channel sales manager Gerald Grattoni about Intel's plans for the channel, and takes a look at its in house graphics operation Larrabee and the huge potential that has to change the whole landscape forever?
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Has Intel's commitment and investment to the channel changed in recent years?

I don't think it has changed, I think we've been very, very consistent in what we've been investing and in looking after the channel. We're trying to be more efficient, and we always try to bring more things to our customer base, from very small customers to our larger customers. We try to be very comprehensive in our approach to the people we target.

I think 'consistent' is what you'd have to call it, we always try to do the best we can by bringing in new products, new programmes and marketing activity. The channel is important to Intel's overall strategy. The channel players are very good with the transition of technology, they are very flexible companies. We will continue investing in them as they are a key part of our business.

Are you looking to widen the remit of who you engage with in the channel?

That's one thing that we have done a lot of. We are extending the scope of what we call 'the channel'. If we look at the last year's engagement we had, it was mainly focussed on integrators and component resellers.

What we've done now is really bring all the value add, the training and the marketing which we can help with and bring it to a broader remit to service what we would call the channel. Our engagement was perhaps limited to the integrators, the system builders and component resellers.

In terms of the way we communicate now, we approach the channel from a much broader perspective.

Would you say you have always had closer ties with UK retailers and resellers than rivals?

We've got some guidelines and things we want to achieve, and we have been focussing on delivering that for the last year. We keep focussed, and it's critical for us to bring solutions, the best marketing and the best training.

There are a lot of channel programmes from other companies, I think we all bring a different angle, but we are pleased with the way we have been supporting the channel in the last year.

In the UK and Ireland we also want to continue to support our customer base and find new channels in the market and new verticals.

The channel is evolving quickly, and I would say that from the beginning we have been fairly consistent with the support of our products. And we want to make sure we provide the best support to make sure we get the new products to market, some new verticals and we try to match make them with some of the key tier one retailers in the UK to make sure we can work with them on new business models, for example the managed services for new technology.

We are sitting down with the channel and working out where the opportunities are, and we will go further than that with some of the other key players – where we can help with our European retail network or our European OEM network we will to see if we can help them to find opportunities abroad, whether that's in the USA or in Africa, or across Europe as well.

We make sure we're bringing all the 'value-add' and all the things we can help with to accelerate and strengthen their business.

How exactly is the channel evolving?

In the last two and a half years you've seen a fair bit of consolidation in the UK market. Some of the larger integrators have closed down, some of them have merged and some new players are on the horizon at the moment. I think the channel landscape is changing, and the market and the demand and needs are also evolving.

And we want to make sure that the channel remains competitive.

Get with the programme

As well as showcasing a number of new products in the pipeline, the Intel Solutions Summit (which took place in Rome April 14th to the 16th) provided the launch pad for two new programs designed to better support the UK channel.

The Flex+ scheme is essentially similar to Air Miles or a Tesco Club card, whereby customers get rewards and incentives for various purchases. These include products, staff training, and golf days.

Also introduced at the show was the Multi Site Director Program Package, which was created in response to Intel noticing a lot of its customers were switching to more service based business model. It provides facilities for remote management, remote maintenance, upgrades, and alerting functionality, and has been in pilot for nine months.

Sam Bellamy, European channel sales manager spoke to us from the show regarding some of Intel's more specific plans to support the channel.

"We are looking to do more online in terms of our own channel website and banners. We're also doing some pass through materials which has Intel graphics and catchwords etc. On that same advertisement channel partners can put their own logo or their own website to really show and demonstrate the partnerships that we have.

Our vice president and head of channel business worldwide talked about how one of Intel's very first orders nearly 40 years ago was from a distributor. From that first order and certainly from the last ten years since I've been in the channel we've had huge commitment and huge investment and we've also seen great returns and its been very successful all round. We see the channel is extremely strategic to Intel's future, and we're so happy to continue to invest in the programmes.

"There are 180,000 members of our programme in 160 odd countries worldwide. That's something we're very proud of and it's obviously a very significant part of our business. And they'll be lots of investment in the future as well."

Graphic details

The balance of power that existed for years, in which CPU powerhouses Intel and AMD generally left the real business of hardcore graphics capability to smaller specialist ATi and Nvidia, is disappearing.

When AMD first acquired ATi, the assumption from many quarters was that Intel would follow suite and make a swoop for remaining discreet graphics specialist Nvidia. While it certainly had deep enough pockets for such a venture, the deal never happened. Instead rumours began emerging of Intel's in house graphics operation codenamed Larrabee – rumours that were soon confirmed by the chip giant itself.

The potential of this new graphics venture – producing products hardwired to be perfectly compatible with the most populous CPUs in the world, and supported by the huge weight of funding a company like Intel could provide – led many to question the future of Nvidia.

Nvidia's stance is that it has been in the graphics game too long to simply be muscled out by Intel's bulging wallet (see page 44), and the firm's top brass has been making increasingly aggressive statements towards Intel.

Meanwhile Intel is being decidedly more tight lipped on its intentions in this space.

When asked how important it is for Intel to have a greater influence in the future development of graphics technology, Grattoni replied: "Graphics is key to the market, and we've got a strong amount of integrated systems at the moment."

It is expected that the first products will launch late next year, and that it will require a brand new Intel written software development kit for firms to write code for.

With Intel piling its not inconsiderable wealth behind the venture, the potential for change in the discreet graphics market is huge.

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