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Intel’s Troubled Path to the Future

Monday Dec 17th 2018 by Rob Enderle

While announcements from Intel look compelling, its seeming inability to execute either in building the products or getting developers to use this new capability is unprecedented.

Intel recently made a series of interesting announcements, but it seemingly lacks the ability to execute on several of them, thanks to the crippling influence that the last CEO and current board have on the company. The announcements were based around six areas of focus that included advanced manufacturing, new architectures for AI and graphics, super-fast memory, interconnects, embedded security and common software. But without the capability to move most of these to market, a reputation that has been badly tarnished, and a history of unmet promises, on top of a lack of executive leadership, most of these promises are likely empty.

IDF

Intel’s most successful process for getting the industry to accept the various technologies it was bringing to market was the Intel Developer Forum (IDF). This forum, created by ex-Intel executive and new VMWare CEO Pat Gelsinger, mirrored similar Microsoft events and assured Intel’s future and ability to lead its market. Many of us hoped that Gelsinger would return to Intel but the horrid way the company treated him and cast him aside apparently made that return impossible (Intel has a history of abusing employees, making returns at all levels far lower than with peer companies). I should add that Gelsinger seems to be enjoying running VMware, so he was unlikely to leave anyway.

But, without IDF, Intel has no real strong mechanism to get the developer support it needs to make most of these new technologies viable. It still has a strong brand but that alone won’t drive a market that has massive employee shortages and is already over committed to move to new technologies quickly, if at all. So, the One API thing is badly crippled by an inability to engage developers like the company once did with IDF.

Closed, not Open

In a world increasingly defined by open approaches to technology, Intel remains a very closed and proprietary vendor. Given that developers can now pick their path and there are strong competing technologies from AMD, NVIDIA, ARM, and IBM, which are all mostly more open or far more advanced at the moment than what Intel currently has, Intel is in a poor position to bring them back.

Developers have tasted the more collaborative open platforms created by Intel’s competitors and they like them. Going back to an environment where a firm dictates direction and takes little or no feedback isn’t that attractive anymore.

Intel just hasn’t evolved into what the market wants and that will significantly increase its inability to attract the needed critical mass of developers to complete the solution.

Graphics

One of the big pushes Intel is making is on graphics, and it did put together what appears to be a strong team of developers to make this happen. However, NVIDA and AMD are racing each other at unbelievable speeds and making some big architectural advances. For Intel, this is like entering a 10-lap race with five laps already passed and where the other racers have incredibly fast cars. The odds of catching either of these vendors from behind are incredibly long and Intel’s history with efforts like this is particularly bad.

And, once again, you have to get the developers, who have to be convinced to develop on a platform before there is any related hardware in market. This creates the common cart-and-horse issue, where developers don’t want to develop until platforms are in use, but buyers don’t want to buy until there are applications and games that run on the platform. Once again, the lack of an IDF is just killing this effort.

Foveros

This Foveros effort appears to be a new spin on what AMD already announced with “chiplets” and it arguably validates that approach. While it appears more focused on Qualcomm and Microsoft’s “Always Connected PC” effort, on paper, like AMD’s prior presentation, this looks really compelling, but it requires a very focused effort to execute and it is hard to argue that Intel can focus when it doesn’t even have a CEO. And the CEO the firm is supposedly considering is a modem expert, not a chip expert, suggesting the firm may not fund or focus on this effort adequately enough to make it successful. AMD, under Lisa Su, has been an execution poster child and Intel doesn’t seem to be able to get out of its own way thanks to a lack of leadership and unprecedented layoffs. With a board that has one qualified engineer on it, that is run by a bean counter and populated with medical doctors, this would seem to be a bridge too far unless Intel gets the right qualified leadership.

Security

Security at Intel is a bad joke thanks to what happened with the last several high-exposure problems the company reported. Its handling of Spectre and Meltdown exploits was so bad that it is almost legendary. It sat on them for a year while the now-fired CEO divested his stock, reported them to China months before reporting them to the U.S., and its refusal to do a recall left the industry with a bad taste in its mouth. I had an OEM presentation last week where they literally made fun of Intel security, which now appears to be an industry oxymoron. The company has little or no security credibility now and, without a CEO, an inability to even talk with any authority on a critical subject like this.

Wrapping Up: Intel Outside

While Intel’s announcements look compelling, its seeming inability to execute either in building the products or getting developers to use this new capability is unprecedented. Its lack of a CEO or a qualified board of directors (which should be led by Dr. Tsu-Jae King Liu, the woman who is the only member actually qualified to be on that board), coupled with its termination with prejudice of IDF makes it into a paper tiger. You just can’t take the company seriously anymore, making its announcements largely into interesting fiction.

To execute, Intel needs to fix its leadership, starting with the board (and if it is serious about advancing women, make the most qualified member, who is one, the chairman). It will need to revolutionize graphics like Apple did with smartphones, because catching NVIDIA and AMD from behind is likely impossible. It needs to embrace an “open” approach because that’s where the industry is. It will need to bring back IDF, and it will need to truly get serious about security and diversity, not just supply lip service and small investments.

I doubt Intel is capable of doing most of this with the current leadership, so the odds of Intel executing on this incredibly aggressive plan are exceedingly low.

Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm.  With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+

 

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