IBM relaunches PC division

Aims to reduce lifetime cost of PC

Computing giant IBM has a new name and a new strategy for capturing market share in the PC business. Currently, the PC inventor's market share languishes in third place behind Dell and Hewlett Packard with less than half their worldwide sales, writes Steve Malone.

IBM admits that companies like Dell have been better at selling computers at a lower cost and making it easier to buy and has vowed to catch up in these areas. However, like many of the larger vendors, IBM has been talking to its big accounts and has come up with a set of strategies that it claims takes a lot of the pain out of running and maintaining perhaps hundreds or thousands of PCs across a company.

Kathryn Whyte, VP EMEA Marketing for IBM's Personal Computing Division said 'We want to make it easier to do business with us. [various analysts reports say] 20% of the total cost a PC is the purchase price, the other 80% is in operational support. People want us to provide a better ownership experience and drive down the cost of doing business'.

The relaunch of the Personal Computing Division is backed by a renaming of the entire PC product range around its most successful brand name, the ThinkPad. Thus, the NetVista range will now be called ThinkCentres and the monitors ThinkVision.

To that end, IBM has come up with a set of technologies which it claims will make life easier. The services are collectively known as ThinkVantage. The services consist of four technologies addressing four basic problem areas IBM has identified.

Configuring a user's PC is a major headache for IT departments, and not only for larger companies. Increasingly, companies are turning to products like Symantec's Ghost to restore or to install a complete operating system plus applications and settings in a single operation. IBM's offering, known as ImageUltra builder, can interrogate the computer for the hardware on board and download the correct set of drivers along with the designated operating system and software. Different settings can be made, globally, to a department, workgroup or even individually, saving the cost of someone from IT sitting at your desk with a bunch of CDs every time you upgrade your hardware. Currently only available for IBM machines, the company expects to be able to support other vendors' hardware in Q1 2003.

IBM is also introducing Access Connections software, which automatically decides what environment it is running in. For example, whether it is connected to a LAN , whether there is an 802.11 connection available and - if so - which one and which peripherals and IP addresses are available. It will then automatically configure itself with no further user intervention.

For those times when something does go wrong, like lost files or the operating system crashing, IBM offers Rapid Restore. The program sets a partition on the hard disk - or it could be a CD or external USB hard disk - where data is compressed and backed up at preset times. Although by default the program, which itself takes 10Mb, will take 25% of your hard disk, IBM says few people use all their disk capacity nowadays. Even if a user does hit the ceiling, it is possible to release some of the space allocated to the backup program. IBM says that Rapid Restore is easy enough to be accessed by end users.

The final offering is the IBM embedded security. Already available on some versions of IBM NetVistas and ThinkPads, this is a chip that will encrypt the files and folders on your hard disk. IBM says the security is compliant with the Trusted Computing Platform Alliance, an industry wide group of vendors researching new security technologies.

Commenting on the ThinkAdvantage technologies, Dr John Karidis, an IBM Distinguished Engineer said 'All of these things came out of customer demand. So the technologies were created over the past few years to address these issues.'

Although none of the technologies are revolutionary, IBM knows its blue chip customers. The services are squarely aimed at IT departments faced with higher demands and shrinking budgets. Having admitted that it is finding it hard to keep up with the likes of Dell over pricing and ease of purchase it is attempting to differentiate itself with these new initiatives. However, Karidis denied that the commodotisation of the PC has forced IBM to try and differentiate itself, particularly in large accounts. 'IBM has never felt that the PC is completely commodotised. We want to make our products the best PCs out there. The Think strategy is that's a good starting point but you have to have them at competitive prices with competitive delivery.'

Therein lies the rub. While the value of NetAdvantage can be sold to IT Directors, trying to explain it to SMEs will be harder. They are often looking just at the price tag and don't have an IBM salesperson to explain the benefits of looking at the whole life cycle of the machine.

© PC Pro.

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