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Intel Architecture Day: Manufacturing, IP, Integration to Drive Next Gen Markets and Opportunities

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  December 19, 2018

The IT industry’s big love for new products and achievements is well-documented, but like any obsession, it occasionally turns pathological. That’s especially true regarding the assumed superiority of emerging technologies over well-established products and services.

Oft times, these breathy claims carry more than a hint of compromise. Leading companies, including IBM, Cisco, Oracle, Dell and many others have also been depicted as circling the drain due to innovations from plucky upstarts. Heck, IBM’s mainframe business has supposedly been on the verge of collapse for over a quarter century. Instead, despite some hiccups and with a few adjustments, these vendors continue to motor along driving billions of dollars in revenues and profits.

A similar dynamic has been in-play around Intel, with critics claiming that the company’s various challenges and the rise of innovative new silicon vendors and products signal an imminent wider collapse. Instead, most of those vaunted innovations have faltered or failed while Intel continues to lead its sector and target markets, reliably delivering superior solutions and solid-to-stellar financial results.

That doesn’t mean the company has done everything right or is idling along like an overly-entitled cruise ship. The words of former CEO Andy Grove – “Only the paranoid survive.” – are baked into Intel’s DNA and followed by its leadership and board. So, it was hardly surprising that the company used its recent Architecture Day event to discuss developments and strategies it will pursue during the upcoming decade of “data-intensive” computing.

Six strategic pillars

During the event, Intel detailed half a dozen “strategic pillars” it will rely on to continue its technical leadership and capture business in emerging “data intensive” markets and use cases, including next gen PCs and consumer devices, high speed networks, ubiquitous artificial intelligence, specialized cloud computing and autonomous vehicles. The six pillars are:

  1. Process: Emphasizing Intel’s manufacturing innovations, including demonstrating the new “Sunny Cove” 10nm CPU architecture and “Foveros” its “industry first” 3D packaging technology which is designed to allow products to be broken up into smaller “chiplets” that can be organized and connected to enhance specific features and performance.
  2. Architecture: Rather than focusing largely on its traditional IA scalar architecture, Intel envisions a future where diverse scalar, vector, matrix and spatial architectures are deployed in CPU, GPU, accelerator and FPGA sockets as needed. In turn, these architectures will be uniformly supported via a unified scalable software stack and integrated with Intel’s advanced packaging technologies.
  3. Memory: Given the growing demand for high-capacity, high-speed storage, Intel believes its Optane technology will enable it to uniquely fill gaps in the memory hierarchy and provide enhanced bandwidth closer to the silicon die.
  4. Interconnect: The company plans to offer a complete line of scalable offerings from silicon-level package and die interconnects to 5G infrastructure solutions.
  5. Security: Intel believes it has the necessary components to build a “better together” strategy that improves end-to-end security.
  6. Software: According to Intel, for every order of magnitude performance improvement enabled by hardware, software can enable two orders of magnitude improvements. Among other efforts, the company is planning a common set of tools for developers, including a “One API” project designed to simplify programming across diverse CPU, GPOU, FPGA, AI and other accelerators.

Manufacturing as a differentiator

Not surprisingly, these six strategic pillars emphasize Intel’s longstanding leadership in semiconductor manufacturing and its continuing investments in new and emerging technologies. This former point is worth emphasizing, especially since most of Intel’s core competitors have replaced their own silicon production with third parties, like TMSC and GlobalFoundries.

That makes financial sense, at least in the short term. After all, building and supporting a chip fab is always complex and costly, especially as semiconductors become ever smaller and older 200mm and below wafers are replaced by current state-of-the-art 300mm wafers. Given the ongoing funding requirements, signing-up with third party fabs seems eminently prudent.

But it also opens the door to unexpected challenges if foundry partners falter or succumb to problems of their own or are impacted by external events, like natural disasters or global trade disputes. Interestingly, a few days after Architecture Day, a blog post by Dr. Ann Kelleher SVP and GM of Intel’s Manufacturing and Operations organization, detailed how the company is investing in expanding its 14nm manufacturing capacity to increase supply.

Kelleher also noted that Intel is in early planning stages to expand its global manufacturing facilities in Oregon, Ireland and Israel, and will also continue its two-decades-long strategic use of foundry partners for specific technologies. With what has been estimated to be a $300B total addressable market for silicon solutions, Intel is doing all it can to ensure that it can and will reliably meet future customers’ demands.

Final analysis

Good enough. So, the strategic vision and practical steps Intel discussed during its Architecture Day proceedings show the company well-positioned to take full advantage of current and future opportunities, right? Mostly, yes, but there are also some lines that need further definition and coloring-in.

For example, though its security strategy is intriguing, there could be devils lurking in the details. Security is a notably tough nut to crack for IT vendors and more strategic security initiatives fail than succeed. Those include Intel’s 2010 $7.7B acquisition of McAfee which never produced hoped-for synergies, leading to the company selling its McAfee assets TPG for $3.1B in 2016. How Intel delivers on its “better together” security vision should be interesting but it will also be closely scrutinized.

Another point: Though Intel’s Optane memory technology has been promising, computer memory is a notoriously volatile business. In fact, some knowledgeable analysts (including Jim Handy of Objective Analysis), are anticipating a collapse of DRAM prices in 2019. Should that occur, it could result in significant losses for Optane (which is priced to be competitive with DRAM). Intel’s steady profitability would help minimize the pain but no one wants to incur significant losses.

Those points aside, Intel’s Architecture Day provided notable insights into the company’s ongoing efforts and upcoming plans that should cancel out rote disparagement from critics and competitors. Of particular interest were the demos of the upcoming Foveros 3D packaging technology and Sunny Cove CPU architecture. If those innovations deliver what Intel suggests, the future will continue to be bright for the company’s Core and Xeon portfolios.

Along with Foveros, the One API software project should be of particular interest to Intel’s OEM and other customers. People tend to forget that IT and consumer electronics vendors whose solutions depend on third party chips and other components are always in the hunt for ways to lower costs and improve efficiencies. Using Foveros to effectively mix/match chiplet blocks should pave the way to enhanced new silicon solutions, as will reducing the complexity of developing software for diverse computing engines.

Overall, Intel’s Architecture Day clearly highlighted the ways in which the company is anticipating and preparing for the future. But it also revealed that far from passively waiting for that time to arrive, Intel is actively working to make the future it envisions into a reality.

© 2018 Pund-IT, Inc. All rights reserved.

Dell EMC’s OEM Solutions: New Leadership + Evolving Strategy = Continuing Success

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  December 3, 2018

Leadership changes can be challenging for business organizations, particularly when the executives being replaced have enjoyed notable success. Those can be tough acts to follow, but by choosing the right people and implementing the right processes, the affected organizations and its people can continue their upward trajectory. The Dell Technologies Original Equipment Manufacturing (OEM) and Internet of Things (IoT) Solutions group is a great example of how this dynamic can work well. Continue reading

Dell Technologies – An Enterprise Vendor in Full

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  November 28, 2018

Does massive, ground-shifting change ever happen in an instant? Sure, at least enough to inspire songs, films and best-selling books. But more often, significant, fundamental changes require careful planning and steady, dedicated execution. It isn’t that love at first sight is a fiction – more that, along with a modicum of luck, reaching your Golden Wedding Anniversary requires a different sort of thought process and action.

The results of that approach to long term strategy were clear at Dell’s recent Analyst Summit in Chicago. The event and 200+ global analysts were a far cry from the modest analyst meeting Michael Dell hosted in 2007, a few months after he returned to Dell’s CEO position. At that time, his central pitch focused on “Dell 2.0” – a concept hinging on Dell’s planned transformation into an enterprise-class vendor of desktop-to-data center IT solutions.

The company arguably achieved that pinnacle with its blockbuster purchase of EMC just over two years ago but integrating so large and complex an acquisition takes time. Plus, it presents a greater question: Where does a fully-formed, fully-enabled Dell Technologies go from here? In Chicago, Michael Dell, his executive team and enthusiastic partners and customers, including Mastercard and Carnival, offered cogent answers and a clear vision of a future centered on Unlocking the Power of Data. Continue reading

Updating a Classic: Dell’s New XPS 15 2-in-1

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  November 14 2018

There are two ways to screw-up classic or iconic products. First, a vendor can treat the device with the softest of kid gloves, timidly avoiding changes to the point that the thing loses its allure and drifts in irrelevance. Alternatively, a maker can confuse needed changes with ephemeral trends, eventually obscuring whatever made the product great in the first place.

Then there are vendors that handle the process seamlessly, somehow managing to maintain iconic elements while keeping great products scrupulously contemporary and up-to-date. With that in mind, let’s look at Dell’s new XPS 15 2-in-1, a laptop that extends the company’s classic XPS with compelling new aesthetic and technical features. Continue reading

Pund-IT Spotlight Interview: IBM’s Andy Walls

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  November 13, 2018

Data storage has an odd position within the IT continuum. Though widely recognized for the critical roles they play in computing infrastructures of every kind and size, storage solutions tend to receive less public attention than microprocessor and memory technologies. That is a serious oversight, especially when one considers how important storage is in crucial new use cases and workloads, including artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, Big Data, advanced analytics and the Internet of Things (IoT).

In the following interview, Andy Walls, the CTO and chief architect of IBM’s Flash Systems storage organization, provides insights into how these and other developments fit into the current state of enterprise storage and IBM’s efforts. Walls is particularly well suited to that task since his remarkable 3+ decade-long IBM career spans key evolutions in modern enterprise storage, many of which were sparked or extended by his own achievements.

In 2014, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty named Walls an IBM Fellow, the company’s highest recognition for its technical leaders. In his statement, Walls noted that when hiring, “I look for people who don’t limit themselves. They have confidence in their abilities. They know they can do more than it appears. In my experience, there are the critics and there are the solvers. I don’t want to hire critics.” He couldn’t have described himself and his work any more clearly. Continue reading

Lenovo DCG: New Solutions for Modern SMBs and ROBOs

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  November 7, 2018

An interesting if little discussed sidelight on technology is how a rapidly maturing industry successfully serves increasingly sophisticated customers. This issue is present in numerous sectors and product classes, from automobiles to zippers. However, while the dynamic is clearly apparent in business-to-consumer (B2C) markets, it’s also a significant factor in business-to-business scenarios.

Why is that the case? Because like consumers, over time businesses have ready access to and become increasingly savvy about products and services they utilize. Consider how that has played out in IT over just the past decade or so with organizations rapidly transitioning from “bricks” to “clicks” business models leveraging IT resources. Not to mention companies adopting public cloud solutions, adapting to often opaque online advertising and contending with social media-enabled customers and ratings.

While scale is an obviously important point to consider here, these changes are impacting businesses of every kind and size. In other words, even small and medium sized businesses (SMBs) and use cases with relatively modest or specialized needs, such as remote and branch offices (ROBOs) require dependable, innovative computing solutions. Plus, they are also smarter and more demanding about what they buy today than ever before.

Those points are important to keep in mind when considering IT offerings, like Lenovo’s new single socket servers for SMBs and ROBOs. Continue reading

IBM Power Systems – The Road to Computational Longevity

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  November 7, 2018

Longevity is a trait seldom celebrated and less often achieved in IT. The former point is hardly surprising given the tech industry’s obsession with shiny new things. But the latter highlights how seldom even good solutions keep step with evolving technical trends and requirements, then lose the confidence of enterprise customers.

So how do long-lived technologies get and stay that way? By being innovative, dependable and adaptable, as the continuing success of IBM’s Power Systems attests. Since their introduction over two decades ago, Power Systems have been notable for their dynamic flexibility, resiliency and performance. Those characteristics made IBM Power solutions ideal for data-intensive workloads, including enterprise databases and associated applications.

They are also making IBM Power the platform of choice for newer and emerging use cases, such as in-memory databases, private cloud infrastructures and artificial intelligence (AI) deployments. In fact, those three areas helped Power Systems achieve 17% year over year (YoY) sales growth in IBM’s most recent (Q3 2018) quarter. How has IBM Power gotten from there to here? That’s a subject worth further discussion. Continue reading

IBM and Red Hat – A Match Made for Hybrid Cloud

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  October 31, 2018

That barn buster acquisitions are more common in IT than other industries says as much about the dynamism of the tech sector as it does about specific business circumstances. The fact is that most IT vendors are constantly on the hunt for a competitive edge, and in an industry that changes as rapidly as tech, acquiring external assets often delivers a bigger bang for the buck faster than internal development efforts.

That said, simply buying another company is anything but a slam dunk, even for large, well-funded deals. Critical issues can aid acquisitions from the get-go or contribute to eventual massive failures, like HP’s costly acquisitions of Compaq and EDS. The best deals are those in which the involved companies are well-aligned technologically, strategically and culturally.

IBM’s plan to acquire Linux and open source leader Red Hat for $190 per share ($34B in total value) qualifies as just that sort of plan. Let’s consider what makes a successful IT acquisition and why IBM and Red Hat seem likely to make their pairing work. Continue reading

Intel’s Earnings: The Importance of Diversification

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  October 31, 2018

The purported old Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times” is occasionally apropos for the technology sector and some vendors. Over the past few months, the times have been particularly interesting and painful for Intel.

That began with the surprise exit of CEO Brian Krzanich whose resignation was requested by Intel’s board of directors after an internal probe found that he had engaged in a consensual relationship with a subordinate, which the company said violated its anti-fraternization policy. Since then, Intel shares have trended steadily downward until last week’s quarterly (Q3 2018) earnings report reenergized buyers.

The sources of Intel’s good fortunes, along with some unexpected bad news from competitors, is worth further consideration. Continue reading

Intel, Rolls Royce and the Voyage to Autonomous Shipping

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  October 17, 2018

Over the past decade or so, the IT industry has been in the thrall of what might be called the iPhone Effect, where vendors promote new technologies to consumers first, no matter how well or badly suited they are to consumer and home use cases. The strategy makes a certain sense given the impact Apple’s iPhone made—creating an essentially new market for web-enabled apps and content that eventually forced businesses to contend with mobility-obsessed employees via Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiatives and other efforts.

The problem is that other promising technologies have had serious problems in trying to catch the iPhone’s lightning in a bottle. So, strategies centering on consumer-focused products, like IoT (through Smart Home devices and services) and virtual reality (for home entertainment), have often faltered, sullying the reputations of the technologies and players involved. Some others—self-driving consumer cars are a good example—are growing in fits and starts, with vendors vying for position in markets that are years away from being commercially sustainable.

On the other hand, business-focused solutions leveraging many of these same technologies are proceeding apace. Industry-specific IoT and VR solutions are readily available, and autonomous systems for commercial transportation are evolving quickly. Why is that the case? Partly because enterprises are willing to invest in a new technology when they believe it can offer significant, even profound business benefits.

A good example is this week’s announcement from Intel and Rolls-Royce concerning the latter’s Ship Intelligence platforms and Intelligent Awareness System solutions for commercial shipping. The solution uses AI-enabled sensor-fusion and decision-making capabilities powered by Intel’s Xeon and 3D NAND-technologies to increase the intelligence, efficiency and safety of commercial ships. The two companies also believe that the Intelligent Awareness System will provide the foundation for future autonomous shipping systems.

Let’s consider this further. Continue reading