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Top 5 Reasons Intel Is Winning And 4 Potential Pitfalls

Wins include the dominance of the Xeon server processor and research into data centers on a chip, while stumbling blocks center on a second-place communications chip business and settling on a potential successor to CEO Paul Otellini.

Alexander Wolfe

November 16, 2010

4 Min Read

Unfortunately, Intel chief sales and marketing officer Sean Maloney suffered a stroke in March, 2009. (I wrote about that in How Will Sean Maloney's Stroke Affect Intel?.) At the time, it was hinted that Maloney's return would be, if not soon, then certainly not in the distant future. However, when I chatted with an Intel spokesman a few week ago, it appears that Maloney is still recovering.

Maloney is only 53, and when I saw him in April, 2009, he could've easily passed for 42. So I feel for him personally, because he's an enthusiastic representative for his company and a charming guy. Looking at it dispassionately, his unavailability, however long it lasts, is bad news for Intel's long-term future. That's because, while Intel has a deep bench, all the other contenders appear relatively bland, as compared to Maloney. Then again, Otellini is fairly laid back, and he hasn't done too badly.

3) Marvell's New Server Processor.

I mentioned the Marvell sale in "Telecom Leadership Remains Elusive," above. For years, no one paid much attention to Marvell, but the ARM-centric vendor resurfaced in a big way last week. That's when it released its first server processor.

Normally, a server chip wouldn't be big news. That's because, as I wrote above, Intel has pretty much locked up the server market with Xeon. However, Marvell's Armada XP processor is an interesting and potentially significant development. It's aimed at applications in stripped-down servers such as those used by Google and by the emerging large data centers which support cloud computing.

The Armada design is a low power and quad-core part ideal for "cloud" servers. It's an ARM-architecture part, which means it's going to run Linux, rather than Windows. (Also, ARM is on a roll lately.) That's not a negative, merely a data point emphasizing its enterprise intent.

Armada also has an SoC heritage, which means that Marvell could presumably gin up other versions. So while one never wants to make too much of a point product announcement, it seems like Marvell might have something significant here.

4) What To Do With McAfee?

In August, Intel said it would spend $7.68 billion to buy security vendor McAfee. That's a lot of money to pay if all you're interested in is selling packaged security software. Turns out this is not what Intel is looking to do. Apparently, the McAfee deal is part of a strategy to fold security features into the hardware itself.

Putting security code directly on chip would obviously enable it to run faster. Equally importantly, it would allow Intel to charge a premium for said features. This is no small deal, especially in a market where desktop and laptop processors are mostly commodity products, and where downward pricing pressure continues unabated.

As Intel puts it in the current quarterly report:

"Our goal is to enhance security features through the combination of hardware and software solutions. This may include identity protection and fraud deterrence; detection and prevention of malware; securing data and assets; as well as system recovery and enhanced security patching. We entered into a definitive agreement in the third quarter of 2010 to acquire McAfee Inc. We believe this proposed acquisition would accelerate and enhance the combination of hardware and software security solutions, improving the overall security of our platforms."

This isn't the first stab Intel would be taking at trying to put an extra-revenue gloss on a plain-vanilla processor. As I wrote in Unlocking Intel's $50 CPU Upgrade Program, Intel has begun testing the sales of $50 processor upgrade certificates to unlock multitasking features in certain processors.

I'd guess that there wasn't much consumer update, since anyone computer-literate enough to understand what multitasking features are, knows enough about when and where they're needed and which CPUs support them.

OTOH, security is probably an easier sale. Even I, a person who's long thought security software is a waste of money, has come round to installing security software on my family's various computers. Hey, maybe this item should be in the "plusses" section, not the pitfalls. Unless you can't go into task manager to turn it off, that is.

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Alex Wolfe is editor-in-chief of InformationWeek.com.

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Alexander Wolfe

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Alexander Wolfe is a former editor for InformationWeek.

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