Balancing Hype And Help At Intel's Developer Forum

Marketing might was on conspicuous display at the Intel Developer Forum Tuesday, especially so for a new part of the show designed to "bring a dedicated focus

February 18, 2004

3 Min Read
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Marketing might was on conspicuous display at the Intel Developer Forum Tuesday, especially so for a new part of the show designed to "bring a dedicated focus to mobile solutions for enterprise IT." While some of Intel's PR dollars brought forth a smattering of relevant information, the balance of the presentations still tipped heavily to hype, promising a mobile-networking nirvana that Intel can't even create for itself yet.

To be sure, Intel earns some praise for its market-evangelizing efforts, especially those that help herd other vendors into more-standard methods of computing. Will Swope, vice president and general manager of Intel's software and solutions group, said the company is spending "multi millions of dollars" pushing its "Mobilized Software Initiative," an effort that includes publishing architecture guides, disseminating developers' tools, and sponsorship of informative Web sites (such as the collaborative effort with CMP Media, Mobilized Software).

Rest assured, Intel is not doing this out of the kindness of its heart: In one of the company's customer case studies (part of an enormous package of marketing material encased on a USB keychain drive that was handed out at Swope's keynote speech Tuesday), Intel heaps praise on a company that replaces its PCs every 30 months. An overall move to mobility -- meaning laptops -- also benefits Intel, since notebook chips offer better margins.

"Mobility is here," Swope said at the end of his talk. "It's real. It's time."

But even Intel itself knows the difference between marketing talk and walking the IT walk. In a separate presentation, a wireless LAN product manager and product engineer talked about Intel's own experiences with WLAN implementation, adding that the company's planned support for data, voice and video over wireless links won't be fully operational for another year or two at the earliest.After 4½ years of building its internal wireless infrastructure, Intel knows that managing wireless networks is a moving target. Unlike wired networks, which offer predictability, wireless implementations require equal amounts of capacity planning, physical airspace smarts, and not a small amount of black magic. And even if they manage to build a secure, wireless infrastructure, administrators must budget time and resources to hunt down "rouge" access points, those that are self-installed by well-meaning internal users.

"They [users] go to Fry's, buy a cheap access point for $50, and voila -- they've got access," said Denny Nissan, Intel wireless LAN product engineer. "Of course, it's a huge security hole."

The best-case scenario for detecting such rogue APs, Nissan said, would be a security management system that could detect non-managed access points, perhaps through the use of MAC filters. What works in real life for Intel, he said, is a PDA equipped with a wireless scanner, which admins carry around, looking for unauthorized datawaves.

"It's a good solution for small installations," Nissan said. "These things [access points] tend to be hidden inside drawers, so they're hard to find."

Nissan had some other real-world advice about where to place access points (100 feet apart is the optimal distance), and admissions that quality of service (needed for voice and video) isn't quite there yet for wireless. But you won't find Nissan's advice among the Intel customer videos and rah-rah whitepapers. Those messages are all about how to convince your CFO that wireless can save money, in the long run, by increasing user productivity.You'd find few opponents to such thinking, especially among anyone who's experienced the joy of freedom and simplicity that a good wireless connection can bring. But as networking professionals know, the devil is in the details behind the scenes, where a lot of hard work happens to make those sunny scenes in the marketing movies.

In pitching wireless' benefits, Intel, you had us at hello. Now it's time to help us make the marriage work.

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