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Intel expands custom processor business

Agam Shah | Aug. 26, 2013
Intel is putting a sharp focus on expanding its custom processor and chip operations in response to a growing trend of companies building servers in-house to meet specific workloads or data center designs.

Intel is also now able to build system-on chip (SoC) designs, in which the CPU is combined with other accelerators, I/O, graphics and other processing units. That makes it easier to build custom processors and chips, Bryant said.

"With our SoC capability now, we can actually do rapid turns of our base product with very unique accelerators. Whether it's voice recognition acceleration or encryption or graphics acceleration... all the different types of accelerators that are targeted at different apps. We can deliver unique products there too," Bryant said.

Intel next year will release Xeon server chips based on the Broadwell processor core, which will succeed Haswell. Bryant said that the server SOC will also help optimize the chip to workloads, be it analytics or cloud.

"We have this wonderful Xeon core, and now Intel has a system-on-a-chip capability where we can rapidly turn out grabbing different intellectual property blocks and accelerators. Why not take this Xeon core and marry it with the SoC capability, and come up with... very [specific] processors targeted at unique capabilities," Bryant said.

In some ways, Intel is taking the same route as Advanced Micro Devices, which is creating custom chips based on its CPU and graphics architectures, but largely for non-server products. AMD's custom chips will be used in the upcoming Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One gaming consoles.

Intel is also investing in software development to tie applications directly to chip development. The chip maker has released its own version of Hadoop, and is also actively contributing an orchestration layer to OpenStack so resources are effectively allocated at server, storage and network levels in distributed computing environments.

Beyond the server, Intel is also looking to change data center design. One of the projects called Rack Scale aims at decoupling the processing, I/O and storage units in data centers with faster throughput mechanisms.

"Instead of a rack being 24 servers slotted in, with each of those servers with compute, memory and I/O, instead break that artificial barrier of the server down and look at it at the rack level. And create pools of compute, memory and I/O so that the application can access and use whatever capacity it needs," Bryant said.

The company is expected to announced a new optical throughput standard called MXC, which will be detailed at the Intel Developer Forum next month. The company is also developing processors for different target markets, Bryant said. Intel will also announce a new Atom processor called Rangeley for embedded networking devices in early September, ahead of IDF.

"We have hundreds of microprocessor products to cover the entire space," Bryant said.



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