Protocol | Enterprise

Intel’s new companion chip for cloud providers has Arm inside

The newest member of Intel's IPU data-center strategy is a chip with 16 cores designed by its longtime rival.

Intel's Mount Evans IPU

The new Mount Evans IPU, designed to help cloud providers manage their internal computing needs alongside those of their customers, will come with 16 Arm Neoverse N1 cores.

Image: Intel

Intel turned to an unlikely source for the newest version of its infrastructure processing unit strategy: longtime rival Arm.

The new Mount Evans IPU, designed to help cloud providers manage their internal computing needs alongside those of their customers, will come with 16 Arm Neoverse N1 cores. That's the same core that's at the heart of AWS's Graviton2 processor, one of the greatest threats to Intel's decades-long dominance of the data center market.

But Mount Evans isn't designed to run cloud customer applications like Graviton2. Instead, it's the latest iteration of Intel's attempt to take a page from modern cloud-server designs and build its own companion processors to help cloud providers run their data centers more efficiently.

"We're looking at this in a very pragmatic way," Guido Appenzeller, chief technology officer for Intel's Data Platforms Group, told Protocol. "We make design decisions based on a number of different factors, and in this case, these Arm cores met the design target performance we were looking for."

Still, it's yet another sign that Intel is changing more than six months after Pat Gelsinger returned to the company where he played an integral role in shaping the PC era of the tech industry around Intel's x86 instruction set. Almost all modern PC and server software has been designed with those chips in mind, and over the last two decades Intel executives have been reluctant to even acknowledge the existence of alternative instruction sets, let alone discuss their benefits.

Data centers as hotels

Companies that manage their own servers run everything on the processor at the heart of that server. In the very early days of cloud computing companies like AWS and Microsoft followed a similar strategy, but there is a lot of additional overhead required to manage huge data centers and support modern application designs, which began to overwhelm those processors.

This led to a number of cloud providers piecing together sophisticated networking chips and other co-processors to handle some of that administrative load. Nvidia found a lot of success with chips for this market over the last few years, and Intel committed itself to this design strategy earlier this year with the introduction of its IPUs.

Appenzeller compared Intel's IPU strategy to the way living spaces are designed depending on who owns the space. In your own home, you move between different rooms as you like. When you stay in a hotel, you have freedom to use your own room however you want, but you can't get into your neighbor's room and facilities such as the dining area and lobby are available for your use but are controlled by the owner.

In this analogy, an IPU is the dining area and lobby; facilities you want and expect, but have no expectation or desire of controlling. Intel's Xeon processors or AWS's Graviton2 processors would therefore be like individual hotel rooms, where customers (guests) can access and control the activity in their own space.

"We think of this not so much as an offload, but as a dedicated place to run the infrastructure functions and be under the control of the infrastructure operator," Appenzeller said.

Coming down the mountain

Mount Evans will be Intel's first ASIC (application-specific integrated processor) design for its IPU strategy. Earlier versions, as well as two other new IPUs scheduled to be unveiled Thursday, were based around FPGA chips that can be configured by the customer to suit a variety of needs, but Appenzeller said the ASIC design offers better performance.

It will be able to support up to four Xeon processors that are running customer applications inside cloud data centers, helping move data into and out of those chips with Intel's networking technology while offering additional computing resources with the Arm Neoverse cores. Intel has made several programmable chips for embedded systems that use Arm cores, but Mount Evans will be one of the company's most prominent endorsements of its technology.

Intel is unwilling to say much more about Mount Evans than it plans to reveal Thursday, including when it expects to start shipping the new IPU. Mount Evans was "designed in collaboration with a large CSP," or cloud-service provider, Intel said, but it declined to confirm which one.

Microsoft has a long history of collaboration on both PCs and servers with Intel, but the chip company said it was working with "a different partner" on Mount Evans. AWS built something similar to Mount Evans called the Nitro system for its own internal use a few years ago.

Protocol | Policy

Why Twitch’s 'hate raid' lawsuit isn’t just about Twitch

When is it OK for tech companies to unmask their anonymous users? And when should a violation of terms of service get someone sued?

The case Twitch is bringing against two hate raiders is hardly black and white.

Photo: Caspar Camille Rubin/Unsplash

It isn't hard to figure out who the bad guys are in Twitch's latest lawsuit against two of its users. On one side are two anonymous "hate raiders" who have been allegedly bombarding the gaming platform with abhorrent attacks on Black and LGBTQ+ users, using armies of bots to do it. On the other side is Twitch, a company that, for all the lumps it's taken for ignoring harassment on its platform, is finally standing up to protect its users against persistent violators whom it's been unable to stop any other way.

But the case Twitch is bringing against these hate raiders is hardly black and white. For starters, the plaintiff here isn't an aggrieved user suing another user for defamation on the platform. The plaintiff is the platform itself. Complicating matters more is the fact that, according to a spokesperson, at least part of Twitch's goal in the case is to "shed light on the identity of the individuals behind these attacks," raising complicated questions about when tech companies should be able to use the courts to unmask their own anonymous users and, just as critically, when they should be able to actually sue them for violating their speech policies.

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Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

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Antoine Nougue,Checkout.com

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Protocol | Fintech

When COVID rocked the insurance market, this startup saw opportunity

Ethos has outraised and outmarketed the competition in selling life insurance directly online — but there's still an $887 billion industry to transform.

Life insurance has been slow to change.

Image: courtneyk/Getty Images

Peter Colis cited a striking statistic that he said led him to launch a life insurance startup: One in twenty children will lose a parent before they turn 15.

"No one ever thinks that will happen to them, but that's the statistics," the co-CEO and co-founder of Ethos told Protocol. "If it's a breadwinning parent, the majority of those families will go bankrupt immediately, within three months. Life insurance elegantly solves this problem."

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Benjamin Pimentel

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Protocol | Workplace

Remote work is here to stay. Here are the cybersecurity risks.

Phishing and ransomware are on the rise. Is your remote workforce prepared?

Before your company institutes work-from-home-forever plans, you need to ensure that your workforce is prepared to face the cybersecurity implications of long-term remote work.

Photo: Stefan Wermuth/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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So far in 2021, CrowdStrike has already observed over 1,400 "big game hunting" ransomware incidents and $180 million in ransom demands averaging over $5 million each. That's due in part to the "expanded attack surface that work-from-home creates," according to CTO Michael Sentonas.

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Michelle Ma
Michelle Ma (@himichellema) is a reporter at Protocol, where she writes about management, leadership and workplace issues in tech. Previously, she was a news editor of live journalism and special coverage for The Wall Street Journal. Prior to that, she worked as a staff writer at Wirecutter. She can be reached at mma@protocol.com.
Protocol | Enterprise

How GitHub COO Erica Brescia runs the coding gold mines

GitHub sits at the center of the world's software-development activity, which makes the Microsoft-owned code repository a major target for hackers and a trend-setter in open source software.

GitHub COO Erica Brescia

Photo: GitHub

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Brescia joined GitHub after selling Bitnami, the open-source software deployment tool she co-founded, to VMware in 2019. She's responsible for all operational aspects of GitHub, which was acquired by Microsoft in 2018 for $7.5 billion in one of its largest deals to date.

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Tom Krazit

Tom Krazit ( @tomkrazit) is Protocol's enterprise editor, covering cloud computing and enterprise technology out of the Pacific Northwest. He has written and edited stories about the technology industry for almost two decades for publications such as IDG, CNET, paidContent, and GeekWire, and served as executive editor of Gigaom and Structure.

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