Grass-roots Support

Below is a marketing case study recounting the partnerships AMD created to drive grass-roots support for its processor technologies

published in 1998 by Wallingford Electronics, Austin, TX

More than usual

Sometimes a relationship becomes more than simply buying and selling-it becomes a true partnership. Two years ago, Advanced Micro Devices started hunting for a local vendor who could satisfy a myriad of tough requirements–someone who they hoped could meet exacting standards of quality and provide the capacity to ramp up production quickly as demand required. What they found was an independent, flexible integrator that exceeded their expectations and grew into a genuine technology partner. What they found was Wallingford Computer Services.

When Greg Rusu joined the Developer Relations group at AMD, he was tasked with finding a local integrator who could supply cutting edge systems to one of AMD’s most important group of users-software developers. Because AMD’s success is predicated on developers creating software that is compatible with-or takes advantage of-AMD processors like the hugely successful K6, the systems that AMD ships to these developers become, in effect, critical components of their relationships. And as new advances in chip technologies are made, systems must be assembled and shipped out quickly to developers and tradeshows to showcase the new technology.

Not up to the task

But AMD had a problem. The local vendor they had chosen was not up to the job. “We were sending out 20-30 machines a month that were built at an integrator here. There were a number of different problems,” Greg explains. “For one, the builds weren’t happening fast enough.” Consistent quality also proved difficult to come by. “Every other week they would hire a new technician-people off the street were coming in and building machines that were going to folks we were trying to impress with our new technologies.” Greg recalls. “So that didn’t work. We needed to find someone else who could do this.”

So the search began. “What I needed was an integrator that was dedicated and focused on doing large builds in the commercial space, with that kind of quality in mind and those kinds of processes in place.” Greg explains. “I sent out a request for bid. It was essentially some configurations and some quantities. I wasn’t looking for a low price-essentially what I wanted to do was talk to people.” After the responses came back, Greg narrowed his choices down to three potential vendors, and set out to personally check out each operation.

Living up to the standards

Before he even set foot inside Wallingford Computer Services, Greg was impressed with their certifications. “That really caught my attention because I knew how difficult it was and how much of a commitment it would take from a small integrator to put technicians through, and how much it takes to retain those kinds of individuals once they get certified.” But certifications aren’t always an indicator of quality, or of experience. “Certification is one thing,” Greg notes. “People can get certified and never even touch a machine-and I’ve seen folks do that.”

While touring Wallingford Computer Services, however, Greg found technicians that lived up to the framed certificates on the walls. “The confidence of the technicians was very good-the way they handled the machines was impressive,” recalls Greg. “I saw a good combination of skill and workmanship.” Greg also found an efficient, organized and-perhaps most important-expandable facility that could flex its production muscles when needed. And the kicker for Greg was that Wallingford Computer Services already had their priorities straight. “The thing that impressed me was that there was almost no storefront-most of the operation was in the back.” That sealed the deal for Greg. “I told them let’s do it.”

Wallingford Computer Services VP Ron Myers remembers the visit well. “They watched our technicians work and they saw that our technicians were not only well trained but they cared about what they were doing.” Myers recalls. “Greg said that we were by far the most professional, sharpest shop that he had visited.” It was clear to Myers that AMD’s scrutiny signified something more than just a short-term need. “They weren’t looking for a vendor that would just spit out a bunch of machines and be done with it,” notes Myers. “They were looking for someone to start a relationship with-someone they could trust, someone with technical savvy who had the ability to expand operations.”

A relationship is born

The deal was struck, and Wallingford Computer Services began supplying systems to AMD for the Developer Group. Some 2000 machines later, the technological partnership has paid off for both companies. “It’s very much a symbiotic relationship,” Myers says. “It’s been a great success,” agrees Greg. “I know of a lot of tier 2 and Tier 3 OEMs that don’t even come close to this kind of integration.”

Time and time again, Wallingford Computer Services machines have proved their mettle in the toughest and most demanding situations. From tradeshow floors to the stress-testing of cutting edge developers, Wallingford quality has been an important asset for AMD. Greg explains: “This is something that turned out to be very typical. There was a show in Atlanta-E3, the Entertainment Electronics Expo, the largest gaming electronics show in the world. AMD had something on the order of 500 machines that were supplied by various groups.”

“There was a large contingent of Wallingford machines-probably 50 or so,” Greg continues. “There was Cybermax, a Tier-3 OEM and CTX. Quality-wise, the Wallingford machines were by far the best. They got there living, working right out of the box and configured well. The Microsoft partner pavilion was powered by a combination of Wallingford machines and CyberMax machines. All the Wallingford machines worked; most of the CyberMax machines did not. Microsoft basically told us, ‘Give us more of these Wallingford machines and take all these other machines away.’ And now there are a number of folks in Redmond that have WE machines on their desks.”

Flexibility second to none

Combining that superb level of quality with the flexibility to turn around large orders quickly has proved to be a killer combination for Wallingford. DeDe Deleon, an ISV/IHV Programs Manager in AMD’s Strategic Initiatives Group, is acutely aware of the value of quick response and flexibility. “My target audience is software developers,” DeDe explains. “We’re a developer-focused group within AMD in that we have to move very fast and with as little bureaucracy as possible for our partners. Wallingford Computer Services has stepped up to the plate by meeting any unreasonable goal or drop-dead deadline for delivery.”

No matter how tight the deadline, Wallingford Computer Services systems are always extensively burned in and tested before they go out the door. And Wallingford technicians work hand in hand with AMD to ensure that the platform will work properly-a real benefit when cutting edge, fresh-from-manufacturing technologies are involved. “WE makes sure that the platform is stable,” explains De De. “I don’t know if we’d get that anywhere else.” But the test and burn-in really seals the deal. “They test them and don’t just send them out in the box. And that’s a cool feature,” notes DeDe.

Tightening the bond

As Wallingford’s partnership with AMD grew, both parties found new ways to improve communication and make the bond tighter. It soon became evident that the area with the greatest potential for improvement was the ordering process. “The way we initially started ordering was me sending out a long email with a list of recipients and the stuff they should get, explains Greg. “It was very inefficient. So I said: ‘Let’s try a web-based system for doing this, because I’m giving you requests for 70-80 machines that you have to turn around in two days.”

Thus an idea was born. “We changed gears a little bit,” Greg explains. We came up with a web-based system.” Developed internally at Wallingford Computer Services with AMD’s input, the web-based ordering system not only allows AMD personnel to place orders but also to actually track the progress of systems as they’re being manufactured, tested and shipped. “It works great,” says Greg. “I can go to any machine in the world that has web access and go to the web site. I carry the URL in my wallet. It allows me to have access from anywhere in the world.”

DeDe Deleon adds, “We have account managers all over the world-one of our big account managers is in the UK. Wallingford’s system has enabled him-at any time-to place an order, to check out what’s been confirmed, delivered or otherwise in the queue.” Indeed, the web-based system has eased the minds of all the members of the group. “When we’re travelling we can check and see what’s going on status-wise,” DeDe explains. “And that’s been a very nice thing.”

Cutting times further

Online ordering and tracking has also improved turnaround times by allowing group members to order directly rather than through intermediaries. And in AMD’s fast-paced world, a day or two can make all the difference. “On the build side, we’ve cut down the lead time to two weeks or less,” Greg explains. “Hot requests we can actually turn around in 24 hours.”

As a true technological partner, Wallingford Computer Services has also worked closely with AMD to test and develop standard system configurations for simplified ordering and building. “Once the managers come up with a configuration that looks like it will be big platform for them, a standard will be agreed upon by the manager of that program,” Ron Myers explains. “We’ll verify that the configuration works; once we’ve verified it, it becomes the basic configuration. But they can also go in and choose from a variety of standard configurations.”

The real test

Of course, the final judge of the integration efforts of Wallingford and AMD is the group that’s really testing the system on a daily basis-the developers. The target audience of all this technology is critical, impatient, and relentlessly testing the limits of their systems. “This is a hard audience to keep happy, explains DeDe. “They’re constantly pushing themselves. They’re so picky and performance oriented that it’s really hard to please them. But Wallingford’s done very well. They’ve helped quite a bit in tweaking the systems to meet the standards of these guys with such high standards.”

One of those guys is Mike McHale, a developer with EIDOS Software Group. EIDOS is a game publisher that works with or owns a variety of developers. “We’re the ones that actually fund the projects and release the games and put them on the shelves,” Mike says. “Everything we have in development-before it ever gets released-we run through a lot of testing. Some of that is software testing, and some of it is compatibility testing for PC products with various products that are out and available.”

Doing it right

Mike has received a number of machines from Wallingford over the last two years, and he’s been extremely pleased with the responsiveness. “AMD will tell us they’ve got some machines on the way and they tend to come over rather quickly,” Mike explains. “If there’s ever a problem they work through it very quickly. Even if I send a machine out we get it back very quickly.”

And the quality? “Much better than average,” Mike says. “Computers are fickle machines. Dells, Gateways and some of the other mass-market companies tend to be problematic at times. The Wallingford machines have been extremely reliable. I’ve actually had an AMD 266 built by Wallingford on my desk for at least a year and a half but I’ve never had a problem with it. I’m afraid to actually switch machines because I’ve had some problematic machines from other manufacturers in the past and I’m happy with this one.”

So happy, in fact, that IBIS may soon start ordering systems directly from Wallingford for their own business use. “These machines are excellent,” notes Mike. “They’re not only stable and work well, but you can throw a lot different hardware into them and they still work great. I’ve actually started speaking to them about building some machines for us, because we like their machines so much. I’ve talked directly to the people that handle our account at Wallingford on many occasions and they’ve been absolutely great.”

A model for the future

Although the relationship that Wallingford Computer Services has developed with AMD has many unusual aspects, it is not unique. Wallingford treats every corporate customer as a partner, always working actively to improve not only the relationship and communication, but also the functionality of the business itself. And the manufacturing processes and ordering systems that have enabled Wallingford to provide fast turnaround and exceptional quality for AMD are available to every Wallingford customer, regardless of size.

“They exhibit all those partner qualities that we try to evangelize in our organization,” explains DeDe. “They work like we work. They know the value of communicating, and they think globally.” Maybe it’s the fact that Rick Wallingford started out selling computer parts out of his living room to his friends. Or maybe it’s just the spirit of collaboration and interest in technology. Whatever the reason, Wallingford Computer Services engenders a feeling of camaraderie and partnership in so many of its customers that the feeling is infectious.

“What we’ve proven is that what we do is replicable,” says Myers. “It is possible to have a quality-built machine on a large scale. A lot of people say if you take the time and effort to really go through these machines and properly test them, you can’t possibly build that many. It’s just impossible. But we’ve developed optimizations in the process-and the bottom line is that we’re able to get unsurpassed quality and volume production.” An impossibility? Not at Wallingford Computer Services. Just ask the folks at AMD.


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