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Issue of December 2002 
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Tech Update: Itanium 2
The Building Blocks strategy

Keeping pace with rapidly evolving technologies is a challenge for Intel's channel partners. To make matters more complicated, the market for servers is becoming highly segmented. So Intel offers standard server building blocks, which have been engineered for specific platforms. By Brian Pereira

“The market for enterprise servers is segmenting, which makes it even more difficult for the channels to keep up,” says R. Ravichandran.

Information Technology progresses at a rapid pace. Every few months research labs announce breakthroughs that make electronic components more efficient. On the enterprise server front, rapid advances in technology have resulted in increased segmentation. Hence Intel's customers find it all the more difficult to keep pace with new technologies and bring products to market. Not all of them can invest time and money in R&D and few have the resources to do research at the micro level. For instance, it's difficult for Intel Premier Providers (IPP) to do engineering or R&D across all segments before introducing products in the market. The Enterprise Platform Group (EPG) at Intel acknowledged this problem and devised a strategy to develop the Intel architecture platform, help customers keep up with technology and reduce the time to market factor.

R. Ravichandran, Intel's Asia Pacific Regional Marketing Manager, Enterprise Platform Group, says the market for enterprise servers is segmenting, which makes it even more difficult for the channels to keep up. 'Channels' include local and multinational OEMs, small assemblers, IPPs and Genuine Intel Dealers (GID).

"At Intel we call this Hyper-segmentation. Five years back the Intel server market was quite simple. You just had an entry-level server which is 2-way and a high-end 4-way server. But in the last five to six years we've seen the market segmenting," says Ravichandran.

The server range today comprises a single processor server at the low-end followed by the two-way server. In the two-way space, depending on the platform features, servers can be classified in the Value space, Volume space or Performance space.

Ravichandran explains that Performance servers are used for 24x7 operations and so they have redundant power supplies, redundant fans, and high level of reliability and availability in the system.

Volume servers are basically single channel SCSI, with expandability for I/O and so forth.

Value systems basically have a server board that disregards scalability of the I/O drives (number of drives in the system), SCSI channels and so on. Value is an entry-level server with IDE drives, for small and medium businesses.
Besides two-way servers there are 4-way, 8-way, 16-way servers and so on.

And the range has been further segmented in the past 18 months. Now there are Rack servers, Blade servers and Server Appliances.

Ravichandran says the hyper-segmentation phenomenon puts a big embargo on most companies because they cannot play in all these spaces, themselves. That's why Intel felt the need to develop standard building blocks.
"They (channel partners) take our standard building blocks, configure the systems, and sell it under their own brand," says Ravichandran.

Intel classifies its range of building blocks and services as 'Visible' and 'Invisible.' The former includes processors, motherboards, RAID controllers, server chassis and other server components. The 'Invisible' blocks are the services and tools required for enhancing/developing the platform. This includes quality & design integrity, extensive product breadth, solutions enabling & tools, training, services & technical support, etc.

The Enterprise Products & Services Division (EPSD) within the Enterprise Platform Group (EPG) is responsible for this building blocks strategy.

Besides offering building blocks, EPSD is concerned with taking an application, fine tuning it for the hardware platform, and purposing it for a single function. An example could be Clustering. Intel shows its partners how to implement and fine-tune clustering solutions on its server platforms. This involves training and technical support.

"The biggest thing we do here is validation. An IPP or GID is more worried about chasing his next customer, so we simplify that for him. When we validate a platform, we test various hard disks, add-in cards, and peripherals. We test a disk drive with our server and once it passes through a set of internal tests, it qualifies for the compatible list at our website. The channel partner can refer to that list and take standard memory, a standard hard disk drive, take an Intel platform, pickup a server, and then sell to the end customer," says Ravichandran.

Servers must have a higher level of reliability than desktops. So Intel does the validity for the GIDs and recommends standard building blocks.

Although Intel does not certify products, it does assist channel partners with certification.

Of course the main charter of the Intel EPG is to develop platforms. It ensures that new processors are able to take advantage of specific platforms.

"To ensure what kind of platforms are needed we do periodic surveys among our customers (those who sell systems). We also talk to end customers on a regular basis to find out the issues they face—like server management. As Intel is a building blocks company we also have a Communications group which works on the I/O side—gigabit networks, SCSI, fiber channel etc. We ask this group what are the trends in I/O," says Ravichandran.
A couple of months back Intel EPG launched 10 - 12 platforms for the Xeon processor across APAC. It launched a range of motherboards and chassis to drive Xeon platform in the market place—to transition the market from Pentium III to Xeon based servers. For this it offers a high end server board with reliability features and server management built in. This is ideal for departmental servers and e-business institutions. It also offers a low-end board for the typical SME customer who just needs a server for file/print. So Intel EPG ensures there are servers for various levels of functionality at various price points.

Brian Pereira can be reached at

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