Sunday, July 21, 2024

The World According to Intel

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For several days I’ve been at the annual Intel analysts’ event held on Intel’s campus in Silicon Valley. Intel is clearly upbeat about their financial and market performance and the defensiveness that has been common in prior events is nowhere to be found here.

These guys are feeling their oats and there is an undercurrent of chiding the analysts for being too conservative in forecasts, which have consistently fallen below actual growth and company performance.

Intel, however, is clearly a company still in transition.They are still moving from the PC-centric company of their past and toward a mobile client/server based future.Where they remain combative is on graphics, and with the recent failure of their Larrabee graphics platform they clearly continue to have an exposure here. But in all other areas they came across as competent and formidable.

Let’s take a snapshot of Intel through some of the more interesting presentations.

View from the Top

Paul Otellini, Intel’s CEO, opened looking more comfortable and confident than I’ve ever seen him. He really showcased Intel’s struggle to shift from a PC-centric company to one that is as dominant in the emerging class of consumer devices and embedded technology markets – without prematurely cannibalizing existing product lines.

He is personally working with the Obama administration and expresses his appreciation that, unlike the previous administration, they listened. However, he also expressed frustration that no progress was being made.He carried the role of the CEO well, and while he made some minor errors came across as both comfortable and competent.

Sean Maloney, Intel’s SVP and GM (and likely heir apparent to the CEO role) picked up and spoke on Intel’s technology.His presentation was flawless and he benefited from a stage presence that is often hard to find in an executive these days.His job was to convince us that Intel’s roadmap was in good hands and that their technology leadership would likely continue.

As the lead player in those lining up to be CEO, he also needed to showcase skills in diplomacy and leadership.Both goals appeared to have been accomplished and evidence of solid execution, both against milestones and competitively, were hard to argue.

The Riskiest Jobs in Intel

Deb Conrad is effectively Intel’s CMO and has the disagreeable job of managing Intel’s brands and marketing.The fact that she hasn’t been fired, given that Intel tends to burn through CMOs at an impressive rate, is testament to how she’s handling the difficult dance she is trying to do.

Intel had a branding nightmare in a mess of brands, sub-brands, and brand modifiers that few at Intel could consistently explain, and she has made considerable progress. Core now represents a good, better, best branding strategy where products no longer waterfall down as they age. In other words, from Core 7, the premium, to Core 3, the core features will remain consistent year over year, allowing folks to eventually understand what each level means.

Problems remain with Atom, Celeron, and Pentium, which fall outside this taxonomy and continue to create confusion. But fixing all this and keeping the job is something that Deb’s predecessor could not do and Deb seems focused on getting the job done (and not getting fired in the process).

Renee James, SVP GM Software and Services, is an interesting executive to watch.In theory this group is redundant to software partners Apple, Microsoft, and Google and has its own Linux-based operating system.
According to her, that OS, Moblin, now forms the basis of most of the Linux distributions that exist on mobile devices even though they still keep their own brand name (like Ubuntu). This is because Intel can assure compatibility, drivers, and hardware integration better than these other players.

She has what is likely the toughest dance of all because if she doesn’t execute well enough, Intel is locked out of the very consumer and mobile markets that found their potential future growth. But if they do it too well, Apple, Microsoft, and Google could move competitive against the company, critically damaging existing market opportunity.

Execution came off as good with a number of upcoming interesting design wins showcased. But the risk is off the chart and I wonder how we will view it five years from now.

Making a Difference

Shelly Esque, VP of Legal and Corporate Affairs and President of the Intel Foundation, spoke on Intel’s Third World education initiatives.This was a very touching presentation that showcased that rather than just pitching product they were changing the lives and potential futures of kids that otherwise would live in near slavery.

What stuck with me was that in parts of Asia women are not expected to finish school but to be married by very young age, often to someone much older, and live the life of housekeeper and baby maker.Through Intel’s efforts many of these women are now able to avoid this fate and instead complete their education and become relatively independent and strive for a more meaningful and potentially much happier future.Few companies do this and you could see the passion for this effort in Shelly and the pride in the eyes of the Intel employees in the room watching the presentation.

Mooly Eden, VP of the PC Client Group, is one of my favorite people to watch at Intel. Much of what he presented was locked under NDA but his job was to contrast where Intel is today against where it will be tomorrow from the aspect of the PC products we touch.

The guy has more passion in his little finger than most of the executives I’ve met over the years have in their entire body and it shows.He is on a short list of folks who could likely do the Steve Jobs sales thing if he ever wanted to apply himself to that kind of role.His presentation rebutting the belief that Intel is not competitive with graphics was brilliantly done and I thought very convincing.

The most interesting demonstration was one where you could, real time, take an Avatar-level avatar (game character) and sync it to your facial expressions real time.It was a huge step toward making compelling virtual reality a real thing and opening the door for more realistic massive multiplayer games and Avatar-like movies, but at vastly lower production costs. Mooly is one of Intel’s diamonds and I don’t think the company fully grasps his worth.

Wrapping Up: Intel is Accelerating

Intel came across as competent and confident and clearly remains a company that is at the heart of the US technology market. Intel is doing some really interesting things in terms of energy management for the home though here, where there’s also substantial opportunity, they seem to be struggling with the existing ecosystem.

They continue to face risks associated with graphics performance and the wave of ARM devices that are starting to make inroads into areas that represent growth for the company.Their brands are improved but are still inconsistent and confusing with a blend of new, old, and blended brands in similar products.

However, overall, Intel is vastly improved from where they were last year and they are also reflecting overall improved economic conditions for technology and a warming market overall.While I can’t talk about future products, I can say that the roadmaps were compelling and appeared achievable, with their potential to penetrate new markets like the new tablets and Smartphones were believable.

I am particularly looking forward to the emergence of the real time avatars that Mooly showcased which could, when the concept gets out of the lab, make high performance PCs much more popular.

If Intel is a bellwether, and I believe they are, 2010/11 is looking to be time of improvement for the Tech industry and the potential beginning of a new technology surge.

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