Station masters

The place of the workstation in the Middle East IT market has always been out of the limelight, as if a distant cousin to the more mainstream desktop PC. Despite this, workstations are still a major product focus for several key vendors, especially with constant demand fuelled by regional expansion in infrastructure and the visual industries.

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By  Julian Pletts Published  January 7, 2008

At the ground level of the channel, some resellers are beginning to witness a degree of overlap between the traditional desktop PC or notebook and the workstation. The other end of the channel is seeing Middle East vendors increasingly rely on the channel to make sure the end-user's investment and continued smooth running of these complicated systems is secured.

"Most of the workstations being sold in the region come from PC and laptop manufacturers, so what happens is they are coming to the market from below," revealed Basil Ayass, systems practice MENA at Sun Microsystems. Like many of its workstation vendor counterparts, Sun concentrates on a small and very select channel in the Middle East. It claims this is the most sensible approach because not only is the product highly specialised, but the applications and requirements of end-users can be extremely complicated. "We don't have multiple partners. Over the whole region - 21 countries - we have less than 100 partners because we are very selective," said Ayass.

It looks like traditional PCs are entering into the workstation market, but the truth is otherwise. Traditional PCs can never match workstations because of the fact that they are completely different

One of the most important aspects of the business at the reseller level of the workstation market is the strength of relationship with distribution and vendor partners. End-users do not just drop into their local suppliers and pick up a box and some software. Workstations are diverse and powerful machines that run complex software, such as 3D Studio Max, and carry out highly specific processes, such as rate racing, that are unique and carefully tailored to each end-user's specifications.

Therefore the process of making a workstation sale is highly involved on the reseller's part and will include prolonged periods of consultation, testing, demonstrations and implementation. It is only with a hand-in-hand affiliation with the distributor, and perhaps just as importantly the vendor, that the process can run smoothly.

"We don't just go in and give the customer the hardware," explained Bilal Hamoui, sales manager at enterprise reseller Emirates Computers. "You need to manage the software and we are in a position to provide them with the hardware and software and integrate the whole thing together. A lot of our work is tied to having a tight relationship with partners that offer the solutions in various industries. This includes oil and gas application providers or media software vendors like Autodesk, which allow us to configure and certify a workstation to ensure the maximum performance out of the systems that we give to our customers," he said.

Talking to major players in the Middle East high performance computing channel, there seems to be a dispute over the impact that traditional PCs are having on the workstation market. There are those who feel that with the radical drop in price and the increased availability of better chipsets and computing power, the high-end desktop can challenge the muscular workstation at its own game. But there are just as many - if not more - who confidently assert that even a high-end PC can not come close to touching the computing power of a highly specialised workstation.

Advances in Intel and AMD chip technologies, coupled with the reduced cost of memory, has led some sources to suggest you can now source an equally fast PC with as much memory and at a cheaper price than a workstation. Mena Migally, business brand manager at Lenovo MEEP, holds a similar opinion: "The development of technology, especially in graphics and processors and support in the PC market, is definitely putting less emphasis on the workstation models."

On the other side of the fence there are those like Haseeb Soleja, product manager at Fujitsu Siemens, and HP's category manager, Yan Bergeron, who rally against the idea of PCs entering the workstation market. Soleja says the evaluation is not realistic and superficial. "It looks like traditional PCs are entering into the workstation market, but the truth is otherwise. Traditional PCs can never match or catch up with workstations because of the fact that it is a completely different mantle," he commented.

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