Pat Gelsinger, Intel CEO, speaks at Intel Vision 2022 on May 10 in Dallas. During the hybrid event, Intel’s leaders announced advancements across silicon, software and services, showcasing how Intel brings together technologies and the ecosystem to unlock business value for customers today and in the future. (Credit: Walden Kirsch/Intel Corporation)
Photo: Walden Kirsch/Intel Corporation

Intel’s data-center deadlines

Protocol Enterprise

Hello and welcome to Protocol Enterprise! Today: Intel lays out a roadmap for its data-center strategy, Google and AMD team up on processor security, and the softer side of a chip giant.

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How do we know companies are getting serious about AI? They’re disclosing their involvement with AI as a risk factor in their financial reporting documents more and more, according to new research from Arize, which observed a 20.5% increase in the number of Fortune 500 companies disclosing AI as a risk factor last year.

Stand and deliver

Intel executives outlined the company’s data-center strategy for the next year Tuesday, mapping out a four-year plan for its line of infrastructure processors and several new iterations of existing AI chips.

Intel’s foray into what it calls infrastructure processing units (IPUs) follows other efforts by rivals such as Nvidia and AWS: Both recognized that the demands of modern computing require that networking-related tasks run on a dedicated engine that delivers performance beyond what is offered by a CPU or GPU.

  • For years, cloud computing providers were simply able to buy ever-larger numbers of powerful graphics and processing chips that got more powerful every couple of years.
  • But as it has become more difficult to cram smaller features onto silicon, server designers have looked for other ways to improve performance.
  • “IPU is a key part of the future data-center architecture,” Intel’s head of Ethernet Products Patty Kummrow said in a briefing with reporters ahead of a launch event Tuesday in Dallas, Texas.
  • “We have talked about our data center of the future, [and] we see the IPU as a critical piece to enable all those optimizations and performance drivers that our customers see,” she said.

While Nvidia introduced its own data-processing unit in 2020, Intel didn’t immediately embrace the idea, and launched the first iteration of the IPUs last year. Separating the infrastructure operations from the core computing has made both tasks significantly more efficient, she said.

  • “We're seeing a lot of demand and applicability for these devices, even beyond the hyperscale data centers all the way out to the edge,” Kummrow said.
  • That initial IPU project went well enough to prompt Intel to commit to building four generations of IPUs through 2026, and a set of software tools to help run them.
  • The planned products will scale in speed and complexity, and be driven by data-center operator demands for networking performance, Kummrow said.

The addition of several generations of IPUs to Intel’s existing portfolio of data-center chips is another sign of CEO Pat Gelsinger’s influence on the company and his multiyear plan to remake the business.

  • Prior to Gelsinger’s appointment to the top boss spot, Intel insisted that its CPUs were sufficiently powerful to meet the needs of the modern data-center customer.
  • Committing to at least four years of IPUs indicates the company’s increasing willingness to admit its processors aren’t enough on their own for today’s data centers.

Separately Tuesday, Intel’s Habana AI unit said that it was releasing a new version of its Goya inference and Gaudi training chips.

  • Intel plans to make them with its seven-nanometer manufacturing tech, which will allow Habana to significantly increase their performance by bolstering the subsystems in the accelerators, including adding ethernet integration onto the devices, among other improvements.
  • “With Gaudi2, we are leaping all the way to seven nanometer, and we use that to really upgrade all the major subsystems inside that accelerator,” Habana COO Eitan Medina said.

Intel’s overall data-center business grew at a healthy clip in the first quarter, with revenue rising 22% to $6 billion — though it missed Wall Street expectations.

  • Despite the strong growth and a strong overall market, however, executives noted that supply issues continue to hamper Intel’s ability to fulfill all the orders coming in from cloud computing companies.
  • The company also continues to lose share to rivals such as AMD, according to Jefferies.

— Max A. Cherney (email | twitter)


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GoogMD is the new Wintel

Security flaws in server processors are the scariest type of flaw that enterprise tech buyers and sellers have to confront, given how many people can be affected and how deep those flaws can reach into a given application. AMD and Google recently granted each other a rare degree of trust in order to find ways to identify and stomp out flaws before they turn into crises.

According to Wired, the two companies released an audit of AMD’s Epyc processors used in Google Cloud’s Confidential Computing service, a special industry-wide designation for technology intended for the most sensitive workloads and applications. The multiyear process required AMD to allow Google’s vaunted Project Zero security group to analyze its priceless source code and launch attacks against those chips, probing for weaknesses.

“Anybody who’s written software, anybody who’s created hardware, knows that it’s impossible to be perfect,” AMD’s Brent Hollingsworth told Wired. The partnership builds on lessons learned during the fallout from the Meltdown/Spectre vulnerabilities discovered in 2017 by Google, an event that shook cloud computing to its core.

— Tom Krazit (email | twitter)

The softer side of Intel

GRAPEVINE, Texas — For a company most people consider a hardware business, Intel executives talked a lot about its software ambitions over the first day of the company’s freshly launched Vision 2022 event on Tuesday. Software has become so important to the company that CEO Pat Gelsinger said Intel planned to add even more software-as-a-service businesses through acquisitions in the future.

“We’re going to be doing more SaaS, more SaaS acquisitions,” Gelsinger said. “We're going to be bringing on more of those capabilities to pull through our silicon with SaaS services that we're enabling in the industry. My simple formula is silicon plus software equals solutions.”

Designing and manufacturing the silicon necessary is one piece of the data-center puzzle for chip companies, but these days they now have to make software tools that help customers optimize their hardware. Running one graphics chip or CPU is relatively straightforward, but at the scale of computation required for AI, the tools developers can use to harness the horsepower matter a great deal.

Gelsinger said Intel was committed to develop open interfaces and open-source tools around them — he used Wi-Fi as an example — though the company plans to make its own implementations of some of them.

“We may have proprietary implementations of those open interfaces, that's our special sauce that we're providing, but they're always against open standards,” Gelsinger said.

— Max A. Cherney (email | twitter)

Around the enterprise

TSMC warned customers that it plans to increase prices by “single-digit percentages” starting next year, citing inflationary pressure.

Groups working on behalf of Russia were responsible for a cyberattack that took down the Viasat network at the outset of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, multiple countries including the U.S. and U.K. confirmed Tuesday.

Red Hat introduced several new services designed to support its OpenShift Kubernetes tool at its Red Hat Summit in Boston.

Finally, the year of the Linux desktop has arrived; for Docker Desktop users, anyway.


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