IDF Fall 2005, Day 2

Customer First

Intel has long been a driving force in technology, leading industry initiatives and driving collaboration. There are many examples of this, Intel’s work at JEDEC on FB-DIMMs, the PCI and USB standards, and of course the 802.11 specification. But, when I think of standards and initiatives that Intel has worked on, most of them are technology centric. Wireless certainly provided benefits to consumers, but it was not what I would call a ‘consumer centric’ development. As I mentioned in my article on Day 1, seems to be shifting its focus to the consumer and end-users; I think Don MacDonald stated this a bit more forcefully in the Digital Home keynote:

“…we [the technical community] no longer get to set the bar. The consumer sets the bar for us, and perhaps, whether we like it or not, that bar is much higher than we have traditionally been used to.”

The highlight of the Digital Home keynote was Don MacDonald announcing Intel’s VIIV initiative, which was inspired by the Centrino program and is really about meeting and exceeding consumer expectations. VIIV PCs are targeted for a multimedia role in the home: recording and playing video and audio and controlling the “Digital Home”, etc. The key drivers for VIIV are “ease of use, performance and connectivity”, according to Merlin Kister the Program Manager for VIIV. In order to be a branded VIIV product, a PC must have:

  • An Intel dual-core CPU
  • An Intel chipset
  • An Intel NIC
  • An Intel sound card supporting 5.1 Surround Sound (7.1 optional)
  • Intel’s media serving software, which will include transcoding between different formats
  • Windows Media Center (NB: ask Intel PR about Linux in the future)
  • Intel Quick Resume Technology, an instant on/off features (once the system is booted), like a VCR or TV
  • Certification from a comprehensive testing program

VIIV is clearly being cast as a complement to the highly successful Centrino marketing program, and similarly is aimed at a very easily definable market. Intel will work with their partners to create a product that is attractive to consumers, but will confer a unique marketing advantage for Intel (I’d also be curious to know how many mm2 of Intel’s silicon goes into each VIIV system). Again, this focus on consumers is a good thing and is another indicator that Intel understands the PC market is maturing. I think the program will either sink or swim based on how easy to use the VIIV platform is, consumers really want something that “just works”, rather than something that needs fiddling every so often. Keeping that in mind, perhaps the most important aspect of this announcement is the last bullet point; centralized testing. A centrally controlled inter-operability program will (hopefully) ensure that as Don MacDonald put it, VIIV is “consumer simple”.

Intel’s Active Management Technology

Another great example of Intel really focusing on the customer is the active management technology that Pat Gelsinger demonstrated. Before we get into the details, I’d like to take a brief detour and highlight how AMT evolved.

Originally, some of the engineers at Intel had ideas on how to make life easier for the IT department. Their goal was to reduce the time that IT departments spent dealing with existing technology, so they could manage more users effectively (and spend more time adding implementing new technology, and hence driving more sales of IT gear). Fortunately, rather than just implement these ideas, the Intel team responsible for this first talked to Intel’s own IT department. After some discussions and feedback, Intel included the features that IT departments really want, and dropped the ones that were unlikely to be utilized. Naturally, they also talked to outside sources on this and got feedback from them as well. This is absolutely normal for product management and appears to have been relatively successful.

According to Intel, AMT essentially roles together three capabilities: “discovery”, “heal” and “protect”. I think my choice phrases would really be identification, management and maintainance, but I won’t be too picky here.

For identification, AMT uses NVRAM to store identification for each computer, helping IT both track the physical equipment but also establish a history for the computer. In a 200 person company, it’s pretty easy for the IT department to know users individually and recall the problems they have experienced in the past. I doubt this is possible for a 1000+ person company, so having an ‘issue history’ for each system that can be easily called up is quite useful.

The most important point is that AMT allows remote access and management, almost fully independent of the system. The computer can be turned off, suspended or even BSODed, and AMT can be used, as long as the system is physically plugged in and connected to a network. This is referred to as “Out of Band” communication. AMT can also redirect keyboard input and text output over the network, as well as IDE traffic. This lets the IT department diagnose problems on a PC without visiting it, and even resolve the simple ones remotely.

AMT also allows much easier maintenance and preventative care. Since AMT software can interact with the system, it can also be used to automatically apply updates and patches to machines while they are not being used, or simply to do an automated virus scan. Similarly, AMT can generate alerts based on system state. At IDF, they actually demonstrated how AMT software can be used to automatically shut down a network connection based on observing ‘virus-like’ TCP/IP traffic patterns, thereby preventing further infections.

Ultimately, AMT seems like the most useful business technology that has been demoed at IDF this year. It promises an obvious benefit to corporate users, and according to Pat Gelsinger, a lot of IT consulting firms are enthusiastic about deploying AMT. Now, this is a bit of a different situation, because normally, IT shops are never on the ‘bleeding edge’ of technology. So, I will be really interested to see how AMT is adopted and how long it takes the big IHVs like HP and Dell to start selling AMT-enabled systems.

My 15 Seconds of Fame

Many of us here at Real World Technologies are quite familiar with our friend Charlie Demerjian’s exploits in winning swag from Intel’s “Ultimate Geek” competitions. This year, I decided to join the fray, especially since there was a Mini-Cooper waiting for the winner. The first round was a rather tricky bit of trivia; 40 questions, with the best 10 advancing. The questions touched on a lot of subjects, and as a general rule of thumb, the technology ones were easy (what does interrupt 12h return by the way? I think that is the only computer one I might have missed). However, some of the non-technology questions were quite tricky. Does anyone know the average flow rate of ketchup? Maybe some condiment industry analysts can weigh in on this one…Anyway, I placed in the top 10 for the trivia competition and both Charlie and I went on to the next stage, along with folks from Synopsys, Gateway and several other companies.

The semifinalist competition was a remote controlled car race (using mini-Mini-Coopers). It turns out I’m not particular good at these things, but I was great at driving my car backwards. I placed in at 9th or 10th, while Charlie scored 5th and went on to the final round. As it turns out, Charlie placed in 2nd overall and walked away with a 24” Dell LCD monitor; we both ended up with Garmin GPS units, leather jackets and remote controlled cars. Congratulations to all of the ten finalists and especially to Joseph Yep, the winner of the Mini-Cooper.

I also attended two interesting briefings, one on Yonah and one on HP’s Nonstop Advanced Architecture, which runs on Itanium. Each of these really deserves a dedicated article, so for now, I will just say that both look really interesting.

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