Editorial: It’s On Demand and Nobody Asked for It

The Sapphire Rapids Xeon Scalable processor integrates multiple features that Intel disables in certain models. The company’s On Demand program allows customers to enable them postpurchase.
Joseph Byrne
Joseph Byrne

Last year BMW raised a furor when it began offering heated seats as a service in some countries. All cars would be built with heated seats, but they would remain inoperative until the consumer paid for access. If you’re outraged that consumers must pay extra to unlock capabilities built into a car they’ve already purchased and for which the carmaker has already borne the cost of installing, be prepared to be outraged at Intel.

The company has rolled out Intel On Demand, which allows Xeon buyers to activate features postpurchase. Intel’s new Sapphire Rapids processor integrates accelerators and security features, but these are disabled in some models. However, a customer can pay to enable these later, by requesting access from the OEM or value-added reseller (VAR) that provided the Xeon-based system. As with BMW’s seat heaters, access is granted as either a one-time activation or an ongoing subscription. Intel built the chip, the customer paid for it, and now the customer must again pay to fully use the chip already in his possession.

As with BMW’s scheme, the reaction to On Demand could be loud and furious. Frustration stems not from Intel shipping products with features disabled—it’s done so for years—but from shaking the semiconductor and computer market’s epistemological foundation.

Administrative overhead, not Intel’s failure to strike the right balance between effectively segmenting the market and frustrating customers, is why On Demand is likely to fade away. Small buyers won’t bear the administrative costs. Large ones could amortize those costs over many servers but don’t need the upgrade capability.

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