Earlier this week, I was at the Ryzen Pro launch in New York from AMD. I feel a tad vindicated because a few years back, I suggested that AMD resource a desktop processor to compete with Intel because Intel was focused on creating a smartphone part. I had severe doubts at that time that Intel would be successful because it lacked Microsoft support, but the effort was pulling so many resources from PCs that the PC market was stalling; it left an opening for a competitor like AMD to move in. Eventually, AMD came to that same conclusion and Ryzen consumer, Threadripper, and most recently Ryzen Pro resulted. At the event Dell, HP and Lenovo, the big three in terms of commercial desktops, were on stage in support of AMD’s efforts because they know that selling more desktops is tied to users needing something their existing machine doesn’t have, In this case, it’s all about cores.
Desktop PCs and Users
For those who don’t push the envelope in performance laptops, computers that are several years old continue to meet their needs. Email, Word and filling out expense reports don’t push the envelope in performance and the big reasons for those users to upgrade are battery life, carry weight and, increasingly, security. Desktop users are increasingly focused on performance. These are engineers, analysts, graphic artists, architects, and animators who use every ounce of performance and whose work is tied to the ability of the firm to meet timelines and objectives. For them, performance is often the difference between success and failure.
Because of that, it has often troubled me that the industry made a massive pivot to laptop PCs and seemed to forget these critical employees. People who push the performance envelope tend to be critical to the success of the industry that supports them. They aren’t large in numbers, but they are massive in terms of impact, for their firms and the industry as a whole.
Users in Support
Every good launch has significant user advocacy to put the product in perspective and showcase that there is, in fact, a market for the related product. On stage in this case were Heineken, Kearney Clinic, Schneider Digital, Jellyfish, Qarnot Computing and 42. Each company spoke to the critical need for a system with more available cores because each firm either uses critical applications that are massively threaded or has the need to run large numbers of concurrent applications.
Firms like Jellyfish, which works on the current group of Star Wars movies, were obvious in terms of their need for something that could handle lots of threads. They can take a day to render a frame and they use thousands of cores in their work. Kearney was interesting because this wasn’t medical research that was driving the need, that clearly would be performance limited. It was administration. Apparently, just managing patients has become a massive core consumer as the related applications have become more performance oriented.
42 was particularly interesting. It is a multi-national school focused on a new way of transferring knowledge to students. There are apparently no professors or tests, but a project-based method. So, the students learn by creating new projects. One project is called J-Gravity, which is focused on creating a new rendering of the Janus model of the universe. This model is currently using 1,024 computers to render and the performance increase that Ryzen has provided has been extremely well received. (I’m fascinated with the 42 teaching model.)
OEMs in Support
This is the first time I’ve seen all three PC OEMs on stage in support of an AMD commercial launch. That alone makes this a fascinating event. Dell was up first and wanted to chat about the decline in desktop computers. Currently, it is 51 percent of the market and declining; by 2020, it is expected to be 49 percent and in China, the fastest growing market in the word, will decline from just over 75 percent of the market to just under 75 percent of the market in that same time frame.
I’m kind of wondering at this point whether “fastest growing” is somehow tied to the massive focus on performance over portability in China. Dell is apparently all in on AMD, as it has all-in-ones, gaming machines and servers using the technology.
Dell was followed by HP, the most loyal of the PC vendors to AMD and this is likely somewhat related to its incredible turnaround. Dell spoke about going back to a startup mentality at the firm since it was spun out as a separate company focused on PCs and Printing. I find it fascinating that both of those industries are in decline, but HP outgrew Apple this last quarter. Someone should seriously reconsider that whole “PC is dead” thing. HP spoke to the need to have PCs that would appeal to users again and talked about a focus on millennials, who will define the industry going forward. HP is putting AMD’s technology into the products targeting its best customers who, apparently, (based on the last session), are extremely focused on performance, security and reliability as they build their respective offices for the future. HP tightly focused on user needs, which may also explain why it is doing so well now.
HP was followed by Lenovo. While both HP and Dell spokespeople were product guys, Lenovo’s spokesperson was out of marketing. Lenovo spoke to competition and how it was getting its butt kicked because its commitment to AMD lagged Dell and especially HP. This is a massive change for Lenovo, which is fully embracing the AMD line in the commercial space. What was also different is that Lenovo focused on laptops, and given that this is a desktop part launch, I was suddenly wondering if it has missed a meeting. Interesting stat: IBM sold 25M ThinkPads while it owned the brand. Lenovo has sold 100M and is launching its first AMD-powered ThinkPad.
You have to love a marketing guy; he then brought a pre-production version on stage and after pointing out that it was extremely expensive and relatively fragile, tossed it across the stage to bounce off the floor saying, “it’s still a ThinkPad.” Nicely done.
Wrapping Up: Ryzen Pro Is Different for AMD
This is a very different part from AMD. Historically, the firm provided good enough technology at a value price. Ryzen has many competitive advantages and still an attractive price. But I’m not yet sure the OEMs fully grasp this change, and some of the advantages, like hardware-based security and a near bullet proof way to assure the BIOS isn’t compromised, were underplayed. It was also fascinating to see some of the most interesting products come from systems integrators. They built full-on workstations which, particularly for Threadripper, are likely the sweet spot for that technology. They did seem to get it.
AMD is back. It may take a bit before AMD’s partners fully grasp what that means.
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+