Intel’s Diane Bryant Blazing Trail From Data Centers to Next Era of IT

In a world of apps, big data, and cloud connectivity, it can be hard to remember that there’s more to tech innovation than just software. Then you meet someone like Diane Bryant, and your worldview shifts.

Bryant is senior vice president and general manager of the datacenter and connected systems group at Intel. You know, the $50 billion chipmaker that holds the hardware keys to not just PCs, but the data centers and servers that power our 21st century digital lifestyle. Bryant runs Intel’s fastest-growing business unit—responsible for 22 percent of the company’s revenues and 33 percent of profits last year—and she predicts it will double from a $10 billion business (in 2011) to $20 billion by 2016.

Santa Clara, CA-based Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) has been widely criticized for being slow to move into chips for smartphones and other mobile devices. That market currently makes up less than 5 percent of the company’s revenue. Its cash cow—something like three-quarters of its sales—lies in PCs, laptops, and (increasingly) tablets. Still, the global market for PCs is shrinking.

Meanwhile, Intel is also going through a major leadership transition. Former CEO Paul Otellini, who ran the company since 2005, stepped down in May, and former chief operating officer Brian Krzanich has taken his place. And late last month, CTO Justin Rattner, who led Intel Labs, stepped down because of an age requirement for Intel officers (he turned 65 and is slated to return in a different role). Krzanich spoke recently about ramping up the company’s efforts in mobile devices; Intel also made its first acquisition on his watch, of a satellite navigation chip business. (The company is set to announce quarterly financials this week.)

But data centers are where a lot of the action and growth are these days. Internet giants like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft depend on Intel’s technology—often customized processors and systems, jointly developed—for their massive infrastructure needs. When you do a search, post a social-media update, or shop online, your request is processed, ultimately, by a piece of hardware sitting in a server. And as more machines and people get networked together—whether you call it the Internet of things, connected devices, or M2M (machine to machine)—the number of server requests is going up and to the right.

It all adds up to a huge emerging opportunity for Intel—and for Bryant’s group in particular.

Last month, I met up with Bryant in the Boston area, ahead of a private roundtable event on big data in finance. I wanted to get a sense of the strategic thinking that goes into Intel’s decisions about where to invest, how to compete more effectively in IT, and how the company deals with everything from energy efficiency and security to large-scale manufacturing issues.

Bryant has a pretty interesting perspective. She went to work for Intel as an engineer straight out of college in 1985. … Next Page »

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