Intel’s SMB Strategy: time to re-ignite, reboot?

by Anurag Agrawal    Nov 17, 2011

Anurag AgrawalSMBs are going through a transformation, moving from building block IT adoption to Flat IT in a virtual era. And within this transformation, a PC is still important in its role as the center of IT universe.

SMBs need only buy a PC to get started. However, the nature and use of a PC as the foundational block has changed. There is and will most likely remain only one block. An SMB today can start work immediately with a server that resides in the cloud, use smart phones that provides access to corporate information anytime and anywhere, a CRM application that resides off-premises, a communications infrastructure that is cost effective, a line of business application that is plug-and-play. All enabled by a simple credit card payment system and a PC.

Global SMB spend on IT is expected to be US $426 billion in 2011. PCs and Servers spend, core businesses of Intel, will be US $80 billion, resulting in 129 million PCs (Desktops & Notebooks) and 3.8 million servers. Despite the slowdown, SMB market is still a very healthy market that requires focus and attention. Based on surveys in numerous countries, Techaisle finds that “Refresh of PCs and Servers” is among SMB priorities.

It is more important now than ever for Intel to hit harder at an SMB strategy and messaging.

Recognize Growing Influence of Retail
Importance of retail is continuing to increase across many countries as PCs increasingly become commoditized. 65 million PCs, half of total SMB PC shipments, are purchased by 1-20 employee size businesses that usually shop at retail stores. There are 186,818 dealers/retailers globally who derive 58 percent of their revenue from selling PCs. The retail channel is continuing to grow in number, especially in emerging markets. On the other hand there are 242,010 VARs/SIs globally who are increasingly moving into cloud offerings as they find their traditional services model getting threatened.

Intel should work with its OEM partners to offer business SKU PCs through retail stores. A few of Intel’s OEM partners such as Dell have begun selling business SKUs through retail stores albeit in some countries. As compared to retail, VAR/SI channel derives 36 percent of their revenues from selling PCs. This only enhances the importance and influence of retail within the SMB segment for PCs.
Intel should also open up vPro sales through all channels including retail. Similar to the messaging of i3, i5, i7, “with vPro” and “without vPro” will a good value proposition for SMBs and create a differentiation between SMBs and Consumers. As vPro adoption grows, different types of channels including neighborhood repair shops will have the motivation to jump in to provide remote support and services.

Facilitate Managed Services Adoption
Global SMB remote PC managed services is estimated to be US$1.3 billion in 2011 and will nearly double to US$2.5 billion in 2015. With vPro, Intel has a huge untapped opportunity to target managed services market aggressively. The technology has been around for a while and has had some success within enterprises. Selling vPro-based PCs through the non-retail channel to SMBs is certainly useful but selling through retail and white-box manufacturers will only quicken its adoption.

The scenario today is similar to what the PC industry saw twenty years ago. To accelerate the adoption of PCs, Intel built a white-box channel and started shipping motherboards to them. Concerns were raised that the move would cannibalize market for traditional large OEM vendors but over a period of time both OEM and white-box channels have learnt to co-exist. In fact there are 69,412 system builders across the world. Intel should be able to build a similar program for white box assemblers with a focus on managed services using vPro.

Large format retail channels could create their own NOCs or partner with other MSPs to offer remote managed support services (Techaisle had written about this happening in 2009, BestBuy purchasing mindShift has now happened). For small format retailers Intel should either create its own datacenter or allow OEM vendors to provide NOCs for remote managed support. Smaller system builders could use the data centers offered by Intel, its distributors or other large vendors for providing managed services to their SMB customers.

A PC Refresh Messaging – Path to Ultrabooks

Ultrabooks is another potential opportunity for Intel to sell into the SMB segment. However, current price point will inhibit adoption forcing Ultrabooks to be used primarily in corner offices and a smattering of traveling executives. If the price-point does not fall below US $800 this new form factor will follow a swift end like the netbook form factor.

Ultra-thin aficionados will continue to adopt MacBook Air series. Initial adoption of netbooks had exposed a burning desire among Small Businesses for a low cost, light weight device with an extended battery life. A differentiated PC refresh messaging with Ultrabooks as mainstream notebooks PC is needed in the SMB marketplace. Although some may argue that VDI will replace PCs faster than PCs themselves, however, larger adoption of VDI among SMBs although growing in double-digits is still too far in the future.

Cloud – Intel’s Small Business App Up, Boon or Bane?

Among all of the new priorities that SMBs are driving towards, perhaps the one that most impacts the channel and the vendors is the trend towards increasing adoption of SaaS and Cloud Computing. All leading IT vendors – Microsoft, Dell, and IBM are providing a variety of cloud based platform and application services. Complementing them is a whole host of new companies that are aggressively developing solutions for this space.

Over the next 5 years cloud based services will be the new arena of intense competition. In 2011, SMB cloud computing spend will be US$11 billion (excluding spend on cloud communication services). As SMBs transition investments driven by these new priorities, the impact on the channel will likely be significant.

The small business AppUp services rolled out by Intel is certainly noble as it makes available best-of-breed cloud enabling technologies available to channel partners that serve small businesses. And it is easy to see why many cloud enabling technology vendors such as StorageCraft, GFI and many others will add their applications to the catalog. It gives them another distribution outlet. But their continued commitment remains to be seen. However, Intel cannot just remain a Master Distributor, because it will very soon begin competing with its traditional distributors.

More importantly, Intel in its effort to provide cloud services to its channels and small businesses is missing out on a very key issue: best-of-breed applications. No doubt the applications being offered are some of the best in the industry but there are too many of the same category. For example, how many backup and recovery applications will Intel offer before it finds that they are creating more confusion than simplicity? Channels and SMBs will be forced to once again conduct their own research to sign up and use applications. It should not be a race for numbers but a race for best-of-breed.

While its OEM partners may like to be part of the strategy initially they will not benefit in the long run. Within the next 2-3 years Intel’s OEM partners will begin to draw and implement their own SMB cloud strategies, most likely leaving behind Intel’s small business AppUp services.

Transition from IT vs. Non-IT

With growing adoption of cloud computing the role of IT has also been changing. Business departments are making procurement decisions independent of IT, similar to BYOD. In fact, Intel should focus its attention on Mobility vs. Non-Mobility or Cloud vs. Non-Cloud and even VDI vs. Non-VDI businesses. In effect, the old segmentation models do not exist anymore as the work from anywhere, anytime culture gets more ingrained within SMBs. Segments should be defined and labeled based on their business objectives


Creating an SMB brand distinction is more important now than ever - a brand that delivers empowering technologies to both SMBs and their channel partners and a set of products and solutions that enable an SMB reach its full potential in the shortest period of time. SMBs will continue to invest in on-premise IT infrastructure while experimenting with, or moving selective applications to the cloud and increasing their reliance on MSPs.

As SMBs prefer to procure their IT products and services from same channels Intel should evaluate all of its partners’ expertise areas and create symbiotic partnerships among them with Intel as the broker to serve the SMB customers. At the same time Intel should recruit new retail channel partners to advise, train and thereby help its OEM partners.

Anurag Agrawal

Anurag Agrawal is the CEO of Techaisle, a global market research and consulting company focused on SMBs and Channels. Prior to Techaisle, Anurag headed Gartner’s Worldwide Research Operations and before that was with IDC.