Category: Interviews

AMD launches battle against Intel over APUs

roytaylorcropAn interview with AMD last week shed light on the latest battleground between Intel and AMD which underlies future changes in computing.  In a meeting with corporate  vice president for global channel sales, Roy Taylor, he said  both AMD and Intel are investing in microprocessor architectures which give equal prominence to both serial and parallel computing. And he claimed AMD is ahead of the game.

Using both the CPU as a serial processor and the GPU as a parallel or GPGPU (General Purpose GPU) processor these new devices form a category that AMD calls the APU.  The APU will be the bedrock of a new generation of x86 based HSA or Heterogeneous System Architecture devices. Current generation APUs such as Sandy Bridge, Ivy Bridge and the forthcoming Haswell parts from Intel, and AMD’s Trinity and Richland parts from AMD still use separate memory configurations, with each processor  having its own defined memory block.

But future devices in 2014, said Taylor, will use single memory configurations, allowing both the CPU and GPU to dynamically share a single memory array and be true HSA enabled processors.  Intel’s introduction of an L4 cache to speed up the performance between its CPU and GPU is also an indication of its intentions.

In defense of his argument for APU as a new microprocessor category, Taylor showed a diagram that illustrated the increasing commitment by Intel to a larger GPU configuration in its APU generations.  These indicated, he said, the need for successful HSA architectures to be balanced.
APUs and Open CL
The growth and success of Open CL, which is able to take advantage of APU devices by using the GPU to accelerate parallel functions, is further ammunition to the establishment of the category, said Taylor.  Popular applications such as Handbrake for transcoding, and VLC Player for watching movies, take advantage of this open standard maintained by Khronos and supported by AMD, Apple, IBM, Intel and Nvidia. Open CL received a strong endorsement last week by the announcement by Adobe that it is using Open CL to hardware accelerate its Premier Pro product.

Since HTML5 also takes advantage of GPU acceleration it seems to make sense that in the future we will see APUs used wherever there is a need for a device which can replace the traditional but separate PC configuration of having a separate CPU and GPU.  “That configuration makes sense for higher end systems’”, said Taylor. But in the meantime currently available APU performance is surprisingly strong, he said.  To this end he went on to show the performance of AMD current APUs compared to Intel’s or configurations using both Intel and a separate Nvidia GPU together.
When asked what this meant for the channel, Taylor said that at a time of austerity, being able to build relatively high performance desktop and notebook computers at a fraction of their traditional prices could have a huge impact. He may be right but only if system builders and e-tailers recognise the value of the new category and get behind it.

A quick read of the HSA Foundation website seems to show a significant ground swell behind the use of balanced compute architectures.  With companies like Qualcomm, ARM, Imagination Technologies and Samsung also investing in HSA it does seem that we can expect to see strong developments in this area.  It will be interesting to see what Microsoft thinks of the use of APUs to power Windows and whether the software community in general gets behind the category too.

We contacted Intel in Santa Clara for comment but at the time of press had not received a response.

Resellers cautiously welcome the budget

gosborneResellers have cautiously welcomed some parts of the Budget, saying elements could help smaller businesses and the IT industry.

However, they have warned that by giving benefits and breaks to SMEs and start ups larger companies may find room for complaint.

The comments come as Chancellor George Osborne set out plans to drive the economy by offering SMEs reductions in National Insurance.

The latter was described as a “tax off jobs,” offering every company in the UK the option to take the first £2,000 pounds off their National Insurance bill.

Additionally, he said the Coalition will provide funding for any external advice companies needed.

According to Osborne, roughly 450,000 small businesses  could end up paying no jobs tax at all under the new outlines. He said that for those starting their own businesses and looking to employ staff, “a huge barrier would be removed” when the legislation passes next April.

Responding to the budget, a source at a large reseller told ChannelEye the £2,000 credit against employer’s NI contributions is “a great initiative” and “could also help start-ups too”.

“Not so good for bigger firms who may in the long run face competition from the up and coming businesses with smaller overheads offering cheaper IT services,” the source said.

Another added: “I suppose it’s good that the budget is proposing a cut in corporation tax and boosts for SMEs, however, whether that will pay off remains to be seen.”

Both resellers queried plans to hold off infrastructure plans until 2015, which the Chancellor hinted at when he claimed that, although the government planned to support the economy with the infrastructure it needs, he would only look at throwing £3 billion a year at broadband and mobile telephony investments from 2015 to 2016.

“The reduction in the growth outlook means there will be no new money for infrastructure until 2015/16,” this large reseller told us. “This means we are left in limbo as an economy. This will have a knock on effect on the IT sector, which thrives through new initiatives and businesses.”

The other added: “The Budget is more focused on helping smaller businesses, so surely delaying this could have a knock on effect on the economy”.

Microsoft Windows 8 OEM prices may drop in UK

Windows-8Despite claims that Microsoft is planning to offer discounts on Windows 8 OEM prices over in Taiwan, disties and resellers have said that they have not seen the same happening in the UK.

However, they have hinted that if the rumours are correct, there could be a knock on effect on UK sales later on in the year.

The comments come as DigiTimes reported that Microsoft would lower OEM licensing costs by offering a discount of $20 for 11.6-inch and below notebooks that are equipped with touch screens.

Sources and vendors said this was because Windows had fallen short of expectations in driving demand mainly because its notebooks and tablets were too expensive

For below 10.8-inch notebooks, tablets and hybrids, Microsoft  is said to offer the $20 discount plus free Office 2013 software, from the beginning of April, while retail prices for 11.6-inch touchscreen Windows 8 notebooks were expected to be reduced beginning June to reflect the discount.

However, a big distie who works closely with Microsoft in the UK said that it had not seen evidence of this.

“We haven’t heard of any reductions but we can confirm that these are failing to shift,” he told ChannelEye.

“I suppose if the news is coming from the Far East we can expect to see similar announcements in the next few weeks/months.

“These sources are rarely wrong and it would make sense given the way these products are failing to fly off the shelves.”

One reseller was less convinced, telling ChannelEye: “Sales are slow but I don’t think they are at a pace to send Microsoft into a price slashing frenzy just yet.

“It’s invested a lot of money in these products as well as us, its resellers, so it’s going to hold out. Of course that puts pressure on us to sell, but c’est la vie.”

Microsoft woos channel with Office 365

cloud 1Businesses and consumers have reached a “tipping point” in the market, leading to a huge appetite for the cloud, a Microsoft’s director of partner and strategy programmes has claimed to ChannelEye.

The company, which, over the past year has brought out a range of new products for both consumers and business, is now trying to win over resellers in the lead up to the launch of Office 365 for the commercial space.

“Last July we called the upcoming year a new wave for Microsoft,” Janet Gibbons, director of partner strategy and programme, told ChannelEye. “Not only was this because of the range of products, including Windows 8, that were launched but also the migration to the cloud.”

She said Office 365 had spearheaded this message with the home version for the first time offering a household licence for up to five devices, including Macs and tablets.

“This was a new way of consuming software,” Ms Gibbons added. “It shows how we’re going to be taking products to market.”

Microsoft says it is doing as much as it can to ensure its partners are ready for the commercial launch of Office 365, on the 27 of this month.

It has also changed the way its resellers can bill clients for the product, meaning that from 1 March resellers will be able to bill customers directly.

The current model for reselling Office 365 sees partners receive kick-back payments for what they sell, with Microsoft controlling billing. However, now resellers will be able to set their own margins and bill customers themselves.

“From a channel perspective we have advised our partners ahead of the launch so they in turn can help their customers,” Gibbons told ChannelEye. “We’re scaling this through distribution channels to target 7,500 partners, offering training and face to face meetings.”

The company has also embarked on licensing training  through December to Feb, putting on a two day event targeting 1,700 partners.

This covers other products relevant to resellers including Sharepoint and Link.

“We’re aiming to catch the market when the market is ready for new changes,” Ms Gibbons said. “From what our resellers tell us, their clients are ready.”

Abiquo launches 2013 Global Partnership Programme

Hands across the waterAbiquo has launched its 2013 Global Partnership Programme, aimed at helping partners make the most of the Cloud.

According to the company, the global programme will aim to help resellers take advantage of this technology, which some companies may struggle to do.

Stuart Kerr, Abiquo director of partner alliances told ChannelEye: “The cloud can affect some businesses because of the way it works.

“If you look back traditionally resellers used a range of products from tech to licenses to fulfil their client’s needs. However, the cloud provides all in one solutions.”

He said the programme had been developed in response to increased demand and expansion opportunities worldwide, and “would also look at finding resellers in areas that the company hadn’t yet “reached out into.”

There are also four levels for partners to choose from, which Abiquo claims will help meet their customers’ cloud demands.

It is also hoped that the programme will help the company extend its ability to offer resellers a product that fully meets their customer’s needs as well as offering IT administrators and managers, for the first time the chance to really control every aspect of their cloud.

This ranges from billing to user identification.

Abiquo’s range of cloud software products are targeted at partners operating in the telecoms, healthcare, government and education sectors and are offered in four different options.

The company also says it has already formed a partnership with NEC, making it easier for their customers to deliver self-service cloud services to their enterprise customers.

The channel expansion will target partners in the appropriate vertical sectors and demonstrate Abiquo’s expertise in providing software solutions for these skilled industry areas.

Intel imposes pay freeze on staff

IntelThings are looking more than a little shaky at the Intel Corporation  with claims of pay freezes and vacancies left unfilled.

Last month the company announced that it had seen profits take a nose dive dropping 27 percent in the last quarter, net income stood at $2.5 billion from the $3.4 billion, a year earlier, while the company’s revenue took a hit falling three percent to $13.5 billion from $13.9 billion.

At the time the company claimed that it was striving to do better and award its stakeholders with fatter margins the next time round, but it seems clawing some of the cash back is falling at the expense of its UK staff.

Sources within the company told ChannelEye: “There’s been talk of pay freezes, while [vacancies] that have been left open for months have yet to be filled.”

Some departments were facing a losing battle as a result.

“There’s also been more pressure on both [sales and marketing] departments to perform better, which, without the right support and staff count has been hard, but that’s obviously the demons that we have to deal with rather than for the top level staff.”

The source also said neither marketing or sales departments were seeing any of the marketing budget Intel had promised to throw at this area when it announced its financials.

This year the company earmarked $18.9 billion on research and development, along with marketing and administrative costs, an increase from 2011 when it spent $16 billion in this sector, and up from $18.2 billion last year.

“When Intel said it would be spending more on marketing last month, I don’t think it really meant its staff in this sector and in sales,” ChannelEye heard.

“I think it was more for its products – namely Ultrabooks – and other shiny toys that would appeal to consumers.

“There’s however only so much we can do to promote the Ultrabook, and feed exciting, engaging info to resellers and consumers when we haven’t got all the tools to do it”.

Dell EMEA pres, Aongus Hegarty, outlines company’s vision

AongusHegartyHaving delivered a keynote designed to outline Dell’s positive outlook in enterprise to a room full of press and analysts at a remodeled gas-works, the Westergasfabriek, on the edge of an Amsterdam park, Dell EMEA President Aongus Hegarty took some time out of his schedule to speak with ChannelEye, joined by Edmund English, Director, EMEA commercial marketing.

The latter  confirmed Dell is actively looking at ARM servers.

As CEO Michael Dell is rumoured to be funding taking the company off the market, with investment from Microsoft, it is hard not to see Dell in a transitional phase. Although Dell holds a strong presence in the enterprise already – the whispers at Tech Camp were about just if and when the company would dump its consumer division.

Hegarty said that from a business perspective, Dell has been going through significant change over the last three years. “We’ve been concentrating on enterprise,” he said. “We are at a significant stage in our transformation, very much linked to our customers deploying technologies”. English added that looking at the company’s market strategy, Dell recognises that there are “a lot of great things that brought us to where we are” and that the firm must not forget about them – and that it is adding capabilities rather than cutting them. It is, English emphasised, an “evolution”.

Channel players in particular will have noted Dell’s product portfolio swelling in hardware and in services, not to mention opening itself up to a partner network rather than dealing directly with the company. “Our company five years ago would have been predominantly direct,” English said. “Five years ago we changed and unlocked choice for our partners – because of that our channel business has grown strongly over a number of years.

“Dell is predominantly a commercial company,” Hegarty added. “About 15 percent in consumer and 85 percent in business to business”. With a lot of work around the enterprise, Dell has been building its portfolio in the full enterprise, including in networking, storage and servers.

It is clear from the company’s shopping spree in the enterprise space that Dell is keen to continue as an established player, adding intellectual property as it goes, including with acquisitions such as Quest, Wyse, Kace, and the others that now form Dell Software Group. “That said,” Hegarty pointed out, “we’ve been continuing to invest in our PCs and tablets” – in line with Windows 8 launching late 2012. It did, however, pull out of its brief flirtation in the smartphone space.

“We have continued to invest in the prosumer as well as the commercial side,” Hegarty said. “You see a lot of trends from the consumer space, features and functionalities, influencing, like in Bring Your Own Device – we are very focused with our commercial customers to enable that choice, to work with security elements and access to data”. For example, with Dell’s Latitude Ultrabook.

Although the Intel logo was plastered on Dell’s Tech Camp banners – a similar blue to Dell’s own logo – English confirmed to ChannelEye that the firm has been actively looking at ARM servers. Efficiencies in power are the talk of the day, and English said that Dell takes its lead from its customers. “That’s what we build into our portfolio,” he said. “We are seeing asks and interest, specifically in the hyperscale space”. That said – there have also been “tremendous” efficiency gains on x86 generation on generation. “We are looking at it, yes – have we done engineering and back end testing? Yes.

“We look at our total cost of ownership,” Hegarty said. “At the end of the day, it is about providing the most efficient technology for our customers”. English added that efficiency can span more than classic power efficiencies: “You’re also talking about staff, driving more automation into backend infrastructures, changing architectures, and thinks like that rather than just keeping the lights on”.

Aside from trends such as tablet usage and mobility in the commercial sector, for SMBs, more should be focusing on social media and the building trends that are happening organically and those that are technology led. “For small businesses,” Hegarty said, “they need to be aware – it’s one of the key mechanisms to connect in business, but also in getting feedback and listening to your customers”. Of ten small businesses Hegarty recently spoke to, at least half of them had no social media strategy or approach adopted in their business.

Considering the soothsaying from influential analyst house Gartner, which said in a recent report that the biggest hitters will have their own in-house social networks, this is an area where businesses cannot afford to be playing catch-up.

For trends in the enterprise, English said that convergence is increasing. “It’s a long time since a customer rang up and asked for a server,” he said. “What they’re looking for is a collaboration service, they want a prescripted solution, the fabric, the storage, the compute, and how you manage and orchestrate that – you’re seeing more conversations happening at a holistic level and an application level”.

Hegarty invited interested channel players to start a conversation with Dell. “What’s exciting for Dell’s channel partners is they’ve seen the portfolio of business expand and grow,” he said. Three or four years ago, partners particularly focused on servers, but the wider portfolio is open for business, and Dell is finding that those partners are investing in other capabilities as well. “Using the enterprise space as one example, the acquisitions that we’ve done – a lot of those companies had been doing business through channel partners, so that’s brought new partners into our network too – Dell uniquely has a full portfolio of technology, end to end, and it creates opportunity for partners.

“The best advice I can give to partners, is come talk to Dell,” Hegarty said.

What does the wider market look like to Dell, right now? Hegarty said that, of course, he couldn’t speak for the rest of the market – but for Dell, it is “very much focused on our customers”. Dell must – and is, Hegarty said – understand customer needs and requirements, as well as trends in the market place, whether it’s in a business environment or at home. The strategy Dell has been developing has been working, according to Hegarty, who cited some slides from Marius Haas earlier in the day – himself an ex HP man, that demonstrated it is “winning in that space”.

As for Dell’s competitors – Marius Haas, formerly a heavy hitter at HP and top ally with ousted chief exec Mark Hurd – led the company’s networking division towards serious success. HP itself has an aggressive channel partner program and is providing subsidies and loans to potential partners as well as buying back rival equipment and end-of-lifing it if it can’t be recycled.

How can Dell respond to such aggression from its top rivals? English told us that primarily, the message in the enterprise is total cost of ownership with storage. “I’m very keen to go and have a five year TCO conversation with anybody versus the competitors,” he said, before acknowledging that Dell had similar “tactical tools” for the channel – including where it buys back terabytes in storage. “But for me that is not going to be a primary vehicle of acquisition, I don’t want to press the price of labor, I want to have a holistic conversation”.

“That really reflects a reaction to the success we’re having with the end to end solutions,” Hegarty said. “I can point to the IDC data globally – we’ve been taking share from HP now six quarters in a role, with the launch of 12g technology. Nothing beats investing in R&D to innovate, and to improve the TCO. Different competitors will react in different, potentially kneejerk ways, to deal with that – but nothing beats innovation”.


Cost and pressure of uni work placements could put students off

bbc 330Work placements at degree stage help prepare  IT students for full time work, yet the cost and pressure of finding them can put many off, a work experience professional has said.

The comments follow a survey of 320 graduates from CWJobs, which found that those who had completed a placement year had been better prepared to enter the world of work when they had finished their degree.

A quarter of those asked said they had completed a placement while studying for their degrees. Of these, 81 percent said they felt the experience had helped them when it came to their IT career.

Just under half of students who had not completed a placement year admitted that they did not feel that just having a degree better placed them for the world of work.

According to recruitment firm Experis, and IT jobs site, which jointly conducted the research, employers often look for students who had completed relevant work experience.

However, they pointed out that of the 2,048 computing courses offered in the UK, only 470 offer a placement year.

According to a work experience expert,  many students who don’t have the option of a sandwich course will fail to find a placement during their time at university.

“At university level things change slightly from school age where it is down to each borough to place a 16 year old in a work experience placement”, she told ChannelEye. “At degree level, it’s no longer down to the government to place students, which in some ways, considering the tuition fee hike is unfair.

“It means that on top of their workload students are put under pressure- with probably minimal help from their tutors, to find placements to accompany their course. There may be companies who are signed up with the course but the competition is rife.”

There are financial costs involved too.

An article in the Guardian last year suggested that some universities can charge up to around £4,500 for sandwich years, while businesses are also reluctant to become a part of this scheme as they don’t have the time to supervise these students.

“Placements are very important, but for some, the time and effort associated with these put students off and, as we’ve seen from this research could prove detrimental in the future,” the work experience expert added.

Meanwhile, the Chartered Institute for IT announced that it is launching a teacher training scholarship aimed at creating the next generation of computer science teachers.

The organisation wants secondary schools to “have outstanding computer science teachers” and it hopes the scholarships will help towards achieving this.

The scheme also aims to help students receive a good grounding in computer science education so they are suitably equipped for progression into further education and a professional career.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We need to bring computational thinking into our schools. Having Computer Science in the EBacc (English Baccalaureate) will have a big impact on schools over the next decade.

“It will mean millions of children learning to write computer code so they are active creators and controllers of technology instead of just being passive users. It will be great for education, great for the economy, and will help restore the spirit of Alan Turing and make Britain a world leader again.”

Fifty scholarships per year, each worth £20,000, will be awarded for those engaged in an initial teacher training course, with the funding supplied by the Department for Education.

The scheme will also be backed by the likes of Microsoft, Google, IBM, BT, Facebook, Meta Switch Networks and Ocado.

VIP Computers shirks “rough conditions”

VIP_square_CMYK Despite “rough conditions” in the channel, VIP Computers has said it will continue to push on with its channel strategy and look to hire more senior management in the future.

Speaking with ChannelEye, the distie said channel partners will also continue to see support.

The comments follow an announcement earlier in the week where it said it had appointed two new team members, showing that even in times of economic hardship it continued “to buck the trend”.

The appointments follow the company gobbling up sister company Realtime and unveiling a £1.6 million warehouse expansion.

Frazer Hamilton joins as a product manager and it is hoped his previous record of dealing with major accounts such as Samsung, Sony and LG where he had a similar role within the distribution sector, will help boost business at VIP.

Also joining the ranks is Amanda Baxter, who has taken a position in the company’s accounts department after working for businesses such as Morrison’s and Yorkshire Bank.

“These two new appointments are fully in-line with our plans moving forward,” a spokesperson said, speaking with ChannelEye.

“The appointment of Fraser to look after 600 products was vital for VIP to continue its focus on components and deliver on two key areas for the business, focus and flexibility. Having Fraser in place gives us the focus we need for this product sector, but also much needed flexibility to deliver what our vendors and customers need.”

The spokesperson added that channel partners will be given the “support they need” to get products out to end users.

Speaking about its future, VIP hinted that it would be hiring again in the coming months as well as branching out other parts of its business.

“We will continue to bring on product managers as we expand our vendor base in the PC gaming peripherals market,” it said.

“We’re also continuing to keep a close eye on the cloud services market and will be appointing employees to this market once we have determined a clear route to market for our existing channel partners.”