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Itronix makes its mark with military

Now separated from its troubled parent company, Itronix is challenging Panasonic's lead position in the market for rugged laptops.

Itronix Corp., the manufacturer of rugged laptops and tablet PCs, was recently freed from its troubled holding company and it has made new strides into the military market.

On Oct. 14, San Francisco investment firm Golden Gate Capital acquired Spokane, Wash.-based Itronix from Acterna Corp., which filed for bankruptcy May 6.

"A black cloud had been looming over [Acterna] for the last few years," said David Krebs, group manager with the Natick, Mass.-based research firm Venture Development Corp. "Now that the sale has finally gone through, it is a great thing for Itronix."

Since being bought by Golden Gate Capital, Itronix has been aggressively pursuing the military market, and it has had some recent success. In mid-November, the company won an $11 million contract to provide over 2,200 Itronix GoBook II laptop computers to the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Ga.

While there is plenty of talk about the need for rugged devices with the units of the Department of Homeland Security, Krebs said that, with the exception of first responders, those agencies do not have big budgets for such devices. The real business is with the military.

Both Itronix and military market leader Panasonic are likely to push hard for market share in the future, Krebs said. The military is moving toward a more data-centric strategy, and it has been purchasing more laptops for use in the field, said Vince Menzione, vice president of Itronix's public sector division.

To help it compete with Panasonic, Itronix has developed laptops with three radios, so military personnel can communicate wirelessly via cellular, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The radios can be easily interchanged because they are not locked to the motherboard. The company also has removable hard drives in its devices, an important military requirement. The Itronix GoBook II uses the 1.7 GHz version of the Mobile Intel Pentium 4 Processor-M, and it supports both Windows XP and Windows 2000.

But Itronix may face a challenge as it hunts for more military customers, Krebs said. Selling to the Department of Defense is different than selling to corporate customers, he said, because it requires a solid understanding of the military bureaucracy and complicated federal contracts, both of which are tough grapple with.


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