Intel's siloed business units unify around IoT and connectivity

Intel second-in-command Venkata Renduchintala has set his goals: Use IoT to connect devices and the company's business units

Intel has many disparate business units doing their own thing. The challenging task of tethering them is a top priority for Intel's second-in-command, Venkata Renduchintala.

Renduchintala, known as Murthy, was appointed last November to run Intel's PC, client, and internet of things businesses. He's made his presence felt: Within six months of his appointment, Intel cut struggling products like mobile CPUs and sharpened its focus on growth areas of IoT, servers, and connectivity.

One common thread in all the areas of growth is connectivity, with modems and wireless products now as important to Intel as its CPUs. Intel needed a serious kick in its modem development efforts, which is why CEO Brian Krzanich poached Renduchintala from Qualcomm, a bitter Intel rival, where he was in charge of connectivity offerings. 

Wireless technology will be ubiquitous in new devices, vehicles, industrial equipment, and PCs. Information from those sources will be fed to data centers, which will gather telemetry and churn out insights. Intel is making progress with its modems; Apple reportedly will use Intel's modems in upcoming iPhones.

Connectivity and the IoT business will bind the company together, said Renduchintala, whose official title is president of the Client and Internet of Things (IoT) Businesses and Systems Architecture Group at Intel.

"We're creating the type of all-for-one, one-for-all mentality that I think is really important inside Intel to transition from a bunch of really healthy siloed businesses and towards an entity," Renduchintala said.

There were signs of various Intel units sending a unified message at last month's Intel Developer Forum, especially around 5G. Company representatives talked about how more data generated by smart devices, robots, drones, and PCs could drive sales of servers and networking equipment. Intel's Data Center Group, which deals in servers, otherwise has had little to do with the PC group.

Connectivity will get engines churning on all ends of the business, Renduchintala said. "The IoT business for us is an entire microcosm of the entire business coming together," he added.

Intel's IoT strategy is centered around industrial, retail, and transportation markets. IoT will also help drive Intel's emerging machine-learning strategy, for which the company is building a new server chip code-named Knights Mill.

"All of them have an end-to-end dimension where we are providing a client environment, the networking infrastructure, and the data analytics platform," Renduchintala said.

There will be billions of connected endpoints, and that number will only grow over time, which creates more opportunities for Intel, he said. Dell Technologies CEO Michael Dell this week estimated there will be 230 billion connected endpoints by 2030.

One big effort is around autonomous cars, where Intel could use its machine learning, field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), and other assets. The company is working with BMW and Mobileye to build a self-driving car by 2021.

As client devices generate more information, data centers will need the backplane systems and infrastructure to handle the growing data traffic. Wireless networks will need to transform to be able to deal with the explosion in data rates.

For that, Intel is focusing heavily on 5G, which will blur the lines between types of wireless networks. There will be a bigger demand for faster uplink and downlink speeds from all kinds of devices like drones, robots, smart home devices and connected devices in factories, for example, Renduchintala said.

"We're going to see essentially a much greater pervasiveness of client devices populating the markets," he said. "If you think about autonomous vehicles or delivering health services over a mobile network, you need to be able to make life-or-death decisions based on that."

5G is still under development and expected to go live by 2020. Intel has a robust lineup of modems and wireless products it is building for 5G, Renduchintala said.

IoT will be more pervasive with 5G, giving companies the ability for sensor devices to communicate at longer ranges. Today, most sensors devices can communicate within a limited range of Wi-Fi, ZigBee, or Bluetooth.

Because Intel has a history of promoting insiders to new positions, some critics questioned if Renduchintala would succeed in his new position, but he's put Intel back on track quickly. As an outsider, Murthy wasn't influenced by attachments to specific initiatives. He cut projects, redirected resources to growing areas, and made decisions in a transparent manner after debate and discussion.

Some Intel decisions weren't popular and ultimately, projects were cut, and people were laid off. But some tough decisions were needed to maintain profitability, growth, and relevance.

"As long as you can walk people through your thinking, you can take what was very controversial and make it very logical," Renduchintala said.

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