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Protocol | Enterprise
Your guide to the future of enterprise computing, every Monday and Thursday.
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Intel takes a page from Nvidia’s book and looks beyond the CPU

intel chip on a motherboard

Welcome to Protocol | Enterprise, your comprehensive roundup of everything you need to know about the week in cloud and enterprise software. This Thursday: Intel's strategy for moving beyond the CPU, why AWS will be following new FTC chair Lina Khan very closely, and why nothing — even a $40 billion chip deal — can stop summer vacation this year.

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The Big Story

Pat's progress

The data centers that run the modern internet were built around Intel's vision (with help from several other folks like VMware and Microsoft, of course). Thanks to changing demand, the insides of the next generation of data centers are going to look slightly different, and this week Intel outlined its plans for this new era.

On Monday Intel introduced the "infrastructure processing unit," its name for a new way of thinking about the fundamental hardware inside a server. The name is a nod to what Nvidia calls the data processing unit, or DPU, without acknowledging how much of Intel's current trajectory is a response to trends that took shape elsewhere.

  • The rise of the DPU is the result of several trends coming together as cloud computing becomes widely used and applications with special computing requirements — like machine learning — gain traction.
  • The explosion of demand for cloud computing revealed that simply throwing larger and larger numbers of Intel's flagship CPUs at that demand was inefficient at scale.
  • GPUs seemed like an ideal solution for machine-learning problems and cloud providers adopted them en masse, but GPUs didn't eliminate all the bottlenecks.
  • That's because even run-of-the-mill applications built around microservices — which favor rapid-fire coordination between smaller tasks over raw processing power directed at one big task — are starting to overwhelm the relatively basic networking technology inside older server designs.
  • Intel and others made so-called "SmartNIC" (network interface controller) cards aimed at improving networking throughput in the data center, but it's now clear that was just a stopgap.

Intel's IPU is functionally the same idea as Nvidia's DPU. The goal is to free up the CPU by offloading certain tasks to special co-processors and beefier networking processors.

  • There's a reason you don't hear Intel talk about Moore's Law as much these days: It has gotten very, very hard to improve the performance of any processor simply by cramming more transistors onto a chip.
  • So by moving some of the workload to another processor, server designers can improve overall system performance without having to rely on the engineering wizardry of chip makers, who are building chip features that are approaching the atomic level.
  • This could give major cloud providers much more flexibility to manage their infrastructure. While companies like AWS have already gone down this road on their own with specialized hardware like the Nitro System, Intel will be a major supplier to other cloud providers and server companies like Dell and HPE for a very long time.

This is being seen as a big shift in thinking for those who have been watching Intel closely over the last several years. While there are a lot of details about this product that Intel didn't spell out during its presentation on Monday, it's clear that CEO Pat Gelsinger — who has had almost half a year to try to turn the Intel battleship around — is starting to make progress.

  • "Even in the throes of the pandemic, Intel's executives and managers were defending the CPU as the principal deliverer of power and performance — while at the same time, paving a new, post-Moore's Law route for the company," according to Data Center Knowledge. "Acknowledging that an IPU can assume workloads from the CPU means Intel is no longer afraid to say that the CPU can be overtaxed with system and network management workloads."

More information on Intel's IPU strategy is expected to be released later this year.

— Tom Krazit

A MESSAGE FROM HEWLETT PACKARD ENTERPRISE

Tune in to HPE Discover (June 22-24) to hear from CEOs, technologists and superstars – including General Motors Chair and CEO Mary Barra, soccer champion, activist and entrepreneur Megan Rapinoe, 7x FIA World Champion and F1 driver Lewis Hamilton, and Professional Golfer, Major Champion and mother Michelle Wie West. We'll discuss purpose-driven companies, sparking innovation for a data-centric future, and more.

Learn more

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UPCOMING EVENT

Trading Exploded: Can Financial Education Catch Up? Join Protocol's Tomio Geron, Benjamin Pimentel and a panel of experts for a live virtual event where we'll explore what's next for financial education after the explosion of retail trading. June 22 at 9 a.m. PT/12 p.m. ET. Join us

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This Week On Protocol

Follow the data: Don't miss our comprehensive look at the state of the modern database and data analytics market in The New Database, our latest Protocol Manual. Joe Williams outlined the surge of interest in database startups as well as 10 people shaping the future of one of the most fundamental pieces of the enterprise software stack.

Day Two in D.C.: President Biden named Lina Khan as the new chair of the Federal Trade Commission, a clear sign that antitrust activity — especially when it comes to AWS parent company Amazon — could pick up over the next four years. Protocol's Ben Brody takes a look at what Khan's influence might mean for Big Tech.

Five Questions For...

Gary Hoberman, CEO, Unqork

What was your first tech job?

My first job was on Wall Street, where I worked on creating tech solutions for trading, execution, sales performance, etc. I ended up spending 25 years on Wall Street and in the corporate world as a tech exec before leaving to start my own company.

What's your favorite pastime that doesn't involve a screen?

When I was (much!) younger, I was a sponsored skateboarder. You won't find me on the skateboard much these days, though, as I scratch that itch with a love of snowboarding.

How can enterprise tech improve its current status around diversity, equity and inclusion?

Diversity, equity and inclusion are more than just boxes to check. As an industry, we need to have actionable strategies that recognize the value that DE&I brings to the company. For example, many tech companies have Employee Resource Groups — communities for employees from underrepresented backgrounds. We made the choice to compensate the employees who lead these groups (on top of their salary) to make sure the value of their work is recognized.

What will be the greatest challenge for enterprise tech over the coming decade?

Legacy code. This isn't a new problem, but it's becoming a larger and more urgent problem. As enterprises race to meet digital demands, they're creating more and more code-based software [and] all of that code immediately becomes legacy. This approach doesn't just waste time and resources; it also produces software that is less secure and lower quality, putting the enterprise at greater risk in the future.

Will AWS end the decade as the market leader in infrastructure cloud computing?

There's no doubt that AWS will always be a dominant player, and they could very well end the decade as the market leader. But over the next decade, I think we're going to see more and more enterprises opting for multicloud systems and leveraging cloud-agnostic services. This moment is all about flexibility: Enterprises want to be able to use the combination of services that works best for them and their unique needs, and that often means having freedom and flexibility when it comes to their cloud provider.

Around the Enterprise

A MESSAGE FROM HEWLETT PACKARD ENTERPRISE

Tune in to HPE Discover (June 22-24) to hear from CEOs, technologists and superstars – including General Motors Chair and CEO Mary Barra, soccer champion, activist and entrepreneur Megan Rapinoe, 7x FIA World Champion and F1 driver Lewis Hamilton, and Professional Golfer, Major Champion and mother Michelle Wie West. We'll discuss purpose-driven companies, sparking innovation for a data-centric future, and more.

Learn more

Thanks for reading — see you Monday!

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