RealTime IT News

Intel to Pre-Certify White Boxes

Intel is spending a little more time and money on the generic computer space known as the "white box" sector.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip-making giant is launching a new initiative this week called the Intel Enterprise Server Acceleration Alliance (ESAA). The program is designed to pre-certify Intel-architecture server platforms with its partnering independent hardware and software vendors (ISVs and IHVs).

White boxes are computer devices -- PCs, servers and, increasingly, laptops -- put together from commodity parts by vendors other than manufacturer, which obviously don't carry major brand names. Buyers don't get the security of a Dell, IBM or HP on the box, but they do get uniquely configured items, often from a local vendor that they know. Manufacturers claim the bugaboos of the past -- poor tech support and production/parts inconsistency -- are fading. Increasingly, vendors are focusing on providing advanced management capabilities to white boxes in networked environments, including grids.

Any market segment is not monolithic, however, and concerns about service and support capabilities still exist, which is where Intel said its pre-certification process want to lend a hand.

Previously, server OEMs that want to incorporate hardware and software building blocks needed to individually submit their new IA-based systems to those vendors for independent certification. Intel Senior Marketing Manager Dave Wheat said the No. 1 chipmaker felt cutting out some of the middleman could let OEMs launch more products faster than before.

"Based on initial feedback, there is a high demand for this type of program," Wheat told internetnews.com. "It is currently up and running with customers in Asia Pacific and some in north America with a European rollout due next month. As this program moves into its next phases, we'll be adding more and more ISVs and IHVs and bringing it into the vertical applications like High Performance Computing."

Intel's focus on the white box marketplace is well-timed considering research firm IDC reported about 31 percent of the 35 million desktop PCs sold in the United States last year were white boxes.

Ingram Micro, citing statistics from IDC and Computer Reseller News, claims 43 percent of "solution providers" said white box desktops were their best sellers in June 2003; 17 percent said white box notebooks ("white books") were their best sellers in May 2003; and 40 percent of small and midsize enterprises use white boxes, a percentage greater than any single brand.

Intel currently dominates the white box sector with as much as 60 percent market share, according to IDC's 2002 numbers. After Intel, the next largest players include Taiwan-based VIA with 25 percent of the market and China-based SIS (Silicon Integrated Systems) with 15 percent. Intel's ESAA program is also expected to be incorporated by the four top motherboard vendors: Asustek, Gigabyte, MSI and ECS.

Wheat said ESAA would focus initially on systems running Itanium 2 semiconductors, 4-way Xeon processors, and Xeon chips used in blade servers . The pre-certified IT infrastructures include database, backup and virtualization software, as well as drivers, storage and interconnect components.

Coordinating the multi-vendor support documentation is TSANet -- an independent non-profit vendor-to-vendor repository for documentation.

"Should there be a problem, they help sort things out," Wheat said. "For example, vendor 'A' or ISV 'A' would contact ISV 'B' and talk directly about a database specification or interconnect for some of those recipes. TSANet also provides the database for service level agreements (SLA), which enables the initial contact."

So far, Intel has a handful of partners signed up for ESAA including InfiniCon for help with InfiniBand interconnects, Oracle for database configurations; EMC for storage; Quantum for tape backup and VMware for virtualization software.

Internet.com editor Carl Weinschenk contributed to this report.