All-in-One Desktops for SMBs: A Hole-in-One?

Upward trends in AIO sales have channel pros shifting their sales techniques. A little help from Intel gives builders a custom boost. By Geoffrey Oldmixon

HP is pushing its Omni 200 Quad series. Lenovo has released a new ThinkCentre Edge 91z model. Toshiba just launched its DX1210. iMac is back with a new model, and Dell, of course, has a new version of its Vostro line.

These new models are the result of a groundswell of interest in the latest computing form factor: all-in-one (AIO) PCs. The major OEMs have embraced them, as have channel partners

Greg Hohl, a solutions architect with Hub Technical Services in Easton, Mass., is a good example. Servicing medical and academic institutions, he regularly sees environments in need of space-saving technologies. 

“One of my customers just bought an all-in-one,” Hohl says. “This machine has the same processor [as the tower alternative], the same specs, a nicer monitor, a keyboard, and a mouse.” With a nod toward the space-saving benefits, he adds, “It’s gotten to the point where you can fit all the hardware into a smaller form factor. So why wouldn’t you?”

Indeed, for SMBs and institutions looking to do more with less, space savings goes a long way. That’s why system builders are seeing many of the same sales opportunities as traditional VARs like Hohl.

Jas Batra, for example, sees most of his company’s AIO opportunities coming outside of traditional office environments. “Many hospitals and healthcare providers don’t like systems taking away from their patient space,” says Batra, the vice president of new technologies for Ventura, Calif.-based MJP Technologies Inc. “AIOs seem to play well with them.”

The Next Whitebook?

Though Batra and Hohl share many of the same client profiles, they differ in one key way: Hohl resells AIO products; Batra custom builds them.

Hohl’s rationale for sticking to OEM solutions is a common one: “It’s not like the hardware is infinite in choice,” he says. “For a given case, you might have just three models of motherboards that will fit, but only one monitor with the right connectors.  Personally, I just don’t see a big market for a whitebox all-in-one.”

Batra is a little more optimistic—but only a little. “All-in-one units are definitely being considered as the new whitebook,” he says. “The whitebook itself has pretty much failed from a system builder perspective. We are limited to purchasing pre-integrated units from various ‘distributors’ that also sell direct to the same end users.”

Yet Batra says he likes the idea of whitebooks, especially “being able to add that extra value-add to a system” that is custom built. “When we go with an OEM,” he says, “our hands are completely tied.”

But if Batra considers whitebooks to have failed, what is it about AIOs that gives him hope? After all, as Hub Technical’s Hohl points out, “You’re dealing with many of the same issues with all-in-ones that you would deal with in laptops. It’s all about space for hardware.”

Batra’s hope comes from the company with a long history of whitebook initiatives: Intel Corp.

Intel's AIO Initiative

Last year, Intel launched a build-to-order whitebook program called Spring Peak. It was the chipmaker’s third attempt to establish a whitebook business model that worked.

Seneca Data Inc., based in Syracuse, N.Y., was one of three distributors authorized for the program in the United States. At the time, Seneca’s business development manager Matt Hutton predicted, “This has the best shot at being a long-term solution for the channel.”

Now, it seems, Intel is taking another shot. Launched earlier this year, the company’s AIO initiative aims to take a standards-based approach to whitebox AIO building.

At the root of the initiative is Intel’s thin mini-ITX board. It features the same PCB size as a regular mini-ITX board (170 mm by 170 mm), but with approximately half the height of the standard IO shield. Intel says it “enables a low-profile board that is suitable for AIO integration.”

For Batra, this makes custom building AIOs a more practical endeavor. “Hardware-wise, the main limitation would be the actual, physical barebone unit (touchscreen availability, screen size, resolution, and physical appearance),” he explains. “Other than that, we have pretty good control of the rest of the components.”

Now that Intel is standardizing its thin mini-ITX, Batra explains, whitebox AIOs will be that much easier to customize. “As long as a motherboard fits that form, we can use [it],” he says. “The rest of the components are standard. We’re not limited to the motherboard provided by the ODM.”

GEOFFREY OLDMIXON is a Massachusetts-based business and technology writer.

About the Author