December 14, 2011

ChannelPro Magazine's Tech Preview: The Top 2012 Technology Trends


CUSTOM SYSTEMS
Todd Swank has spent years in the system building industry and is vice president of marketing at Nor-Tech, a manufacturer of custom systems in Burnsville, Minn.
As channel partners can readily attest, the custom hardware business isn’t what it used to be. “We could put together an Intel motherboard with a nice case and a Microsoft operating system and sell it and make good money,” recalls Swank. “That kind of product has become very commoditized.”
Today, Swank looks to Google and Facebook for inspiration. To reduce costs and improve efficiencies, the two companies are building their own servers. Well-known companies “that are building their own servers rather than going to Dell and HP shows that there are good opportunities in that space,” Swank says.
Swank sees potential with servers not based on Microsoft technology. Linux-based Web servers are a growing opportunity, and Apache servers continue to make inroads as well. “A lot of people don’t have the expertise in open source software, so this is where we can add value to the equation,” he says.
Specifically, Nor-Tech has been building custom systems for the high-performance computing market in the government, commercial, scientific, and academic sectors. GPU-based (graphics processing unit) solutions from NVIDIA and high-resolution LED or LCD monitors are popular in universities and corporate environments. “The technology is used in walls of displays, tiles, or a series of projectors that are tied together for research or teaching,” Swank says.
Another opportunity for builders and integrators is mobile technology, using a hybrid approach. For example, Nor-Tech sells other manufacturers’ notebooks and wraps its own products and services around them. The company also sells mobile labs to schools—products that capitalize on its custom systems experience. “We sell the cart and notebooks together, and add value by selling 16, 24, or 32 notebooks integrated into a lab that a school can roll into a classroom.”
Above all, be nimble. As a product becomes commoditized, “it’s just too difficult for the smaller companies to compete,” Swanks says. “We have to go into those niches of the market that aren’t overly competitive, and find out where we can add value, leverage our experience, and provide solutions to our customers’ pain points.”