In One Side of Processors And Out The Other!

In One Side of Processors And Out The Other!

It is interesting for me that the evolution of the PC processor seems to regularly get referred to through the Mini MBA. The first mention that I recall was in week 1, when it was suggested that the historic advertising campaign by Intel known as ‘Intel Inside’ is what clobbered AMD.

It was interesting to come across this as I was almost finished, but not yet published an article on my life long journey through branding. I had recognised two converse scenarios in branding objective – 

  1. Where what you make or do is inside another product or service created or provided by somebody else; they have the primary visibility with the end user or client, and you want to disrupt that so your own contribution and value proposition gains visibility with the end user or client, and if possible becomes a key purchasing factor for them, overshadowing the brand of the overall provider.

This I call ‘Inside Out’ branding.

  1. The converse of this is where the visibility of a particular component of your product or service is such that your customer overly identifies with it rather than what you offer as a product or service. You need a strategy to reduce the third party visibility.

This I call ‘Outside In’ branding. 

‘Outside In’ branding is important to give a provider independent leverage over its supply chain optimization without being limited by customer perception and allows changes to the supply chain without a negative impact on product or service perception by the marketplace. It’s important that solution providers are recognised by their market as the whole of their offering rather than the sum of their parts.

Attempting to embark on marketplace perception change through following the ‘Inside Out’ or ‘Outside In’ models is not universally applicable. In Nigeria if you are a taxi owner you will be on a losing battle trying an ‘Outside In’ approach to elevate the visibility of your service to overshadow the fact that you are driving a Volkswagen Golf while your competitor has a Toyota Camry. Equally it’s going to be hard for Advantech to convince the marketplace to put an MTN sim card in their phone simply because their microwave radio products are being used in MTN networks while maybe Dragonwave X are being used by Airtel.

I had been working on a variant of ‘Outside In’ in Trinidad in the late 80’s in the custom second user vehicle market, and I remember later when Intel came out with the ‘Intel Inside’ that I thought, hey that’s my idea.. well sort of! But the perception that this somehow sunk AMD couldn’t be further from the truth.

This is an area that I am intimate with as I had my own PC assembly business and LAN solution provider to small offices and the self employed in London in the late 90’s. 

You see, The x86 architecture, which is what Intel chips were built to operate on, was invented by IBM. Other architectures in common use were, and still are, ARM, RISC and CISC. IBM only licensed a very limited number of PC manufacturers to market PCs in the market alongside their own offerings, such as Viglen, OPUS and Elonex. IBM had an exclusive processor manufacturing agreement with Intel, so all x86 processors, whether in an IBM, Viglen, etc, were Intel. These became commonly known as ‘IBM Compatible PCs’. Other processor manufacturers such as AMD were more or less excluded from the ‘IBM Compatible’ market, and no threat to Intel. Then IBM made a bad business decision and released the source code as ‘Open Source’. This was in order to create more volume in the marketplace to combat Apple who at that point had been a key leader with their own architecture in a growing PC market. 

They presumed that their superior brand presence would dominate the ‘IBM Compatible’ market over copycats, while the added volume of products in the market on their format, would stifle Apple. They couldn’t be any further wrong! Several legal challenges later attempted to recover the proprietary status but failed. ‘Big Blue’ very quickly went into the red!

By 1994, in London, clone PC parts distributors mushroomed in business parks. I was building five PCs a day. My first one was a ‘386’. I was getting the parts at £150 per unit and selling them at £550.  IBMs units sold at a starting price of around £3000 while its licensed partners were selling from around £1800 upwards.  I had a continuous waiting list. 

Intel’s control over the x86 processor market disappeared almost overnight with other companies such as Cyrix, AMD and SGS Thomson producing chips that were always cheaper and often better performers. Other brands rose up producing other components for x86 architecture, such as motherboards, RAM, graphics cards, modems, hard-drives and Ethernet cards. 

It was a short window which I knew would close fast, as existing companies with robust parallel businesses up-scaled in the market combining overseas parts sourcing with industrial scale assembly located remotely where land and semi-skilled labour were much cheaper than major metropolis. Globally, companies like Dell and Compaq rose to prominence in the space, while Fujitsu, Packard Bell, Toshiba, HP and Acer became particularly strong in the laptop space. By 1996 the internet had become affordable and widespread in urban areas, and many of these companies went online. My value shifted to retaining the office business for LAN related work as parts-only distributors were no longer selling components at a collective discount to the cost of a PC in the retail marketplace. Parts-only survived as a low volume high margin aimed at enthusiasts or those needing legacy spares. 

This was the volatile market in which Intel came with the bright idea of ‘Intel Inside’ but far from shooting an aspiring company into the limelight, what it did was pluck it from the fire, or a sinking ship. Its restoration in the marketplace was not comparable to the monopoly it enjoyed under IBM before. 

It never slaughtered AMD, in fact, quite the contrary.

Intel’s main partner moving forward became Microsoft. The x86 platform was inherently buggy, and on the processor side they just fudged increasing software demands and complexity by throwing higher clock speeds at the problem. Microsoft wanted to move into more share of the Corporate and Server Market where Unix and Corporate Linux products like Red Hat were dominant because they were coded to run on processor architectures such as RISC and ARM. 

Through the mid-nineties, for instance, MS was desperate to make a serious penetration of the RDBMS space but MS Sql suffered relative obscurity when compared to IBM Informix, DB2, Oracle and even Sybase… which worked best on guess what? Unix and Linux!

One of the other limiting factors was that Intel had trouble pushing x86 beyond 32 bit. Intel had been working on a side project called the ‘Itanium’ but they took too long, it was too costly, and it brought too little performance and reliability above ‘traditional’ x86 when finally it arrived.

AMD found the holy grail and by 2003 created the ‘Athlon’. The first 64 bit processor on x86 Architecture, but also with legacy compatibility with 32bit x86 instruction, layman’s terms – existing windows and programs under windows will run fine on it.  

Intel at this stage had long dumped the -86 notation for its processors and started naming them Pentium. In 2004 Intel did a deal with AMD and the last in line Pentium 5, known as the ‘D’ or ‘Prescott Core’ had ‘EM64T’ their variant of AMD64. They dumped the IA64 (64 bit developed for the Itanium). While Intel has continued to develop, everything moving forward has been layered on top of this instruction. AMD 64 is irremovable at the heart of Intel and continues to bring royalty. AMD’s continued success is assured, not only for its own product and marketplace achievements but also its share of Intel’s success which it will enjoy indefinitely. (unless Intel dumps x86 entirely). The unaccredited speaker in week 4 refers to the 486 as something obsolete, but it lives on as an iteration in the x86 lineage as if one of the ancient prophets!

Fifteen years on from the resolution of Intel’s 64 bit x86 challenges, Microsoft may have increased its success driven by Steve Balmer as the course suggests. This is mainly as a result of a shift away from a software on a once-and-for-all licence which was supported almost indefinitely. New versions in the marketplace then needed to justify themselves by new or improved versions offering sufficient increased value, a very hard sell. So they moved to SaaS (Software as a Service) which effectively gave MS software access a fixed term.  When that expires… err… more money please!

Microsoft has shown only modest improvement  in its quest for a share of the RDBMS market.  With the rise of cloud, RDBMS has gained increasing relevance and underpinning technologies such as Azure, AWS, Digitalocean and Amazon s3. Mostly what they have done is look at ways they can layer offerings on top of RDBMS agnostically, and let the RDBMS market itself just simmer away.  Today 2020, the top RDMS globally (revenue not user popularity – source MarketWatch) are: 

  • MonetDB
  • CA Technologies
  • Cubrid
  • Microsoft
  • IBM

It has improved drastically next to IBM, but they are no longer the standard bearers to chase, it would seem, though if anybody has heard of SolarWinds, IBM Informix is its back end!

For my part, I sold that business towards the turn of the millennium for three reasons:

  1. Because I could foresee the window closing on simple small office LAN servicing, just as it had done with clone PC building. Internet services were maturing, offering unmetered usage, better speed and remote services over the internet were offering increasingly useful and user friendly group services such as shared space to store files, and an interesting array of collaboration and productivity tools. Many of these services were very cheap and some were for free.  The ‘dot.com’ boom had begun, and many online companies were adopting a business model aimed at rapidly swelling user numbers rather than demonstrating revenue, because that is what was driving business evaluations. I would say I got a good evaluation.
  2. Solutions for small networks were very quickly becoming plug and play. Just as IRQ settings and resolving IRQ conflicts had disappeared in PC building, similar simplification was coming in entry level server and router software. Once all user stations and devices like printers were connected by ethernet, a simple login to the router via a browser window and the router would offer a simple IP plan covering all devices. If a device was inaccessible or lost from the network, login to the router (depending on model) and it may offer suggestions or solutions. As long as there were no complex permission protocols or exclusive local user groups, small networks became easily manageable by an admin person of at least average technical awareness. The job of the periodic external professional visit to the office of ten or less people was quickly becoming obsolete.
  1. As a salaried leader, I wanted to devote extra time to working on a vision intended to be my legacy  for my employer LEOF.  The project, Safebuld.com involved the creation of the first ever combined ERP, CRM and Contractor/Consultant selection resource for the UK Construction Industry and Public Procurement. But, with the focus of placing BAME and MLE owned businesses at the centre of it.

The technical product opened other opportunities including successfully securing funding from The Housing Corporation to produce groundbreaking research ‘Contracts of Exclusion’ (Research Contractor- Salford University, Urban Studies Unit) and an Equality Code of Practice in the House of Commons launched for us by a Senior Cabinet Minister – Ian Mc Cartney. 

It also led to several awards, and one of the external architects for the project, Adam Afriye, went on to be the first black member of parliament for the Conservative Party (Windsor)

ERP and CRM before the terms were formally coined,  and BLM in the UK in the era of Stephen Lawrence, almost twenty years before George Floyd in the US.

I left LEOF and its commercial arm, Safebuild.com in 2008 to take up a quasi C level role in Lagos with Netcom Africa, anchored in Project Engineering, with additional ownership of QMO, The Group Product Life Cycle and Health & Safety; also training responsibilities across the NAL matrix for relevant disciplines. 

To this day, the ‘Intel Inside’ promotional and advertising campaign remains the most instantly graspable example of what I call ‘Inside Out’ branding.

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3 thoughts on “In One Side of Processors And Out The Other!

  1. A scholarly piece, full of insights from both the technical and marketing viewpoints. As always, what makes a product or brand successful is never known beforehand, until users give their scores.

    Nice one.

    Reply
  2. Thank You John, for this Faculty level exposition, and for sharing your inside knowledge of the industry with us.

    Thank You Prof, for bringing us so much closer to these intellectual gurus on the Tekedia Platform

    We are learning indeed!

    Reply

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