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How AMD Plans To Win Over Solution Providers With EPYC 'Rome'

AMD server channel chief Jerry Gadbois talks to CRN about how the chipmaker plans to take on Intel in the data center channel with its new lineup of second-generation EPYC 'Rome’ processors.

Jerry Gadbois knows AMD still faces some skepticism from solution providers in the Intel-dominated data center market after its Opteron processors faded out of servers several years ago.

But Gadbois, AMD's server channel chief, said the Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker is now giving solution providers multiple reasons to get behind its continued re-entry into the data center with AMD's second-generation EPYC processors, code-named “Rome,” which launched last week.

Chief among the reasons, according to Gadbois: a lower total cost of ownership compared to Intel's Xeon processors, a product road map that has so far produced results on time with promises of new versions over the next few years and major wins with large customers, cloud providers and supercomputers.

[Related: Forrest Norrod Outlines AMD's Plan To Fight Intel In The Data Center]

"That's how we're demonstrating to the decision makers that yes, we need to deliver at the tactical level, but if we don't deliver at that architectural level that includes the security and innovations as we go forward, then that's what's really swaying those who say, 'well, I have an incumbent. why should I change?'" Gadbois said in a recent interview with CRN. "Now we're giving them the answers and demonstrating that it's something they should be taking more seriously, and they are."

Dominic Daninger, vice president of engineering at Nor-Tech, a Burnsville, Minn.-based high-performance computing system builder that partners with AMD and Intel, said the chipmaker's new EPYC processors are already generating buzz with customers, including those who have largely relied on Intel for their processor needs in the past.

"These are large industrial customers that were all Intel up until this point, but the performance-per-dollar argument is just too strong to ignore,” he said.

At the launch event last week, AMD revealed the specifications and benchmarks for its EPYC Rome processors, showing that its new flagship 64-core EPYC 7742 processor can provide a 180 percent boost in integer performance over the Intel Xeon Platinum 8280M while costing less than half in price. The company said it offers similar price-performance advantages against Intel's entire Xeon product stack.

Gadbois said channel partners will play an important role in EPYC's go-to-market plans, especially now since the company has created a solid ecosystem of support with major OEMs, cloud providers as well as software and hardware vendors.

"With the second generation, we have a killer product," he said, "but without the partnerships, it's not going to be accepted in the market as quickly, so we looked at that engagement we had in the ecosystem, and we decided early on to embrace that."

That early support of the partner ecosystem was reflected three months ago, according to Gadbois, when AMD gathered more than 80 companies, which included board partners, system integrators and distributors, and gave them an early look at second-generation EPYC's architectural improvements.

"I have to admit it was somewhat nerve-racking to share sensitive information that early," he said.

But Gadbois said he knew the gambit paid off.

"You could see how they took that information and started to really absorb it within their organizations and see the value it was now going to bring and that excitement," he said.

How AMD Is Working With The Channel

AMD is going to the market in the channel largely in two ways: through authorized distributors and through OEMs like Lenovo, HPE and Dell, all of which have announced new servers sporting the chipmaker's new EPYC processors.

"We provide a complementary approach to each of the partners, so we will work with the value-added resellers, we will work with the distributors to educate them on the EPYC solution such that makes it a more productive sales cycle for the OEMs," he said.

Gadbois said AMD provides partners with a playbook outlining the market opportunities for second-generation EPYC and how partners should approach sales.

"We provide: what is the play, how to qualify the play and guide them through the sales cycle and how to quote," he said.

AMD also provides training as well as field resources in the form of business development engineers who can help with OEM-found opportunities, Gadbois said.

“If we find the opportunity, we'll then assess the best OEM to support that opportunity from the standpoint of what that end-customer's needs are and bring the partner in from that direction," he said.

To help partners navigate AMD's products and their impact on data centers, the chipmaker provides various tools, such as the Processor Selector Tool, which compares EPYC and Intel Xeon processors on specs and list prices, and the EPYC TCO Comparison Tool, which lets partners compare the respective costs of running data centers for specific workloads with AMD or Intel processors. There's also the EPYC Server Virtualization Tool, which accounts for VMware licensing costs in the TCO formula.

Gadbois said the company is planning to launch another tool later this year that helps partners decide which processors are best fit for certain workloads.

"We're looking at complementing these tools as we get into the second half [of the year] with more of a solution selector, which will address, 'I need this particular workload, how do I narrow it down to the right solution, and who do I wish to work with?'"

As for incentives, AMD runs rewards programs through HPE and Dell as well the chipmaker's primary authorized distributors in the U.S.: Synnex, Tech Data and Ingram Micro, according to Gadbois. Under their respective programs, Dell partners can earn gift cards while HPE partners can receive cash payouts.

To help keep the channel up-to-date with the latest AMD developments, the company holds an annual partner conference in the United States, Europe, Asia Pacific and China every year for OEMs, value-added resellers, system integrators, cloud providers and other partners across the company's primary business segments: data center, commercial and consumer client computing as well as gaming.

Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy, said while AMD is investing more into system integrators and resellers, the company will need to overcome Intel's vast resources in the channel by pushing solutions through OEMs.

“AMD is investing a lot more in the enterprise value chain [...] over the last two years, but nowhere to the degree of Intel has been investing the last decade,” he said in a message to CRN. “[The chipmaker] will need to lean on OEMS like HPE, Dell and Lenovo, none of whom have a recent track record of creating demand for AMD.”

Daninger, the executive at AMD partner Nor-Tech, said the chipmaker has built a solid channel program for its EPYC processors, which wasn't always the case in the past.

"We're seeing significantly more support than we have in years," he said.

As an example of AMD's channel support, Daninger said his company received a visit from three AMD engineers before the second-generation EPYC launch last week. He also pointed to tens of thousands of dollars' worth of sample processors the company received to run its own demo cluster.

"It's a significant vow of confidence," Daninger said, for AMD to help a smaller partner like Nor-Tech.

AMD's Persuasion Game Isn't Over

Gadbois said he knows AMD still faces skeptics in the server channel, where Intel has been dominant for years after AMD's Opteron processors lost out to Intel's Xeon processors, which are now onto the second generation of the Xeon Scalable lineup.

To partners who remain uncertain about AMD's long-term data center prospects, Gadbois said he starts with AMD's total cost of ownership argument. At the company's second-generation EPYC launch event, it boasted of a 25 to 50 percent lower TCO versus Intel's Xeon processors.

"That gets them to think, 'okay, should I put that past behind me?'" Gadbois said.

But if partners are still unsure, Gadbois said he points to AMD's product road map and how the second-generation EPYC processors fulfill promises the company made years before. He said it's important for partners to see that the company has openly discussed the road map through 2022, which includes "Milan" and "Genoa" processors based on the company's Zen 3 and Zen 4 architectures, respectively.

"In the data center, that is huge. If you look at the deployments, they're making decisions today for two years out," Gadbois said.

Another important way of convincing the channel, according to Gadbois, is through the ecosystem support and major customer wins AMD announced at its EPYC launch event. This includes new customer engagements with Google and Twitter, the latter of which expects a 25 percent lower TCO running 40 percent more cores per rack on the same amount of power and cooling versus its previous infrastructure.

The company also announced Google Cloud will add instances based on second-generation EPYC, putting AMD in all three major cloud providers in the U.S. At the same time, it's receiving support from OEMs like HPE and Dell, software vendors like VMware and Oracle and hardware vendors like Nvidia and Samsung.

Gadbois pointed to AMD's deal to supply next-generation EPYC processors and Radeon GPUs to the U.S. Department of Energy's Frontier supercomputer as another demonstration of its long-term prospects.

"The fact that we are winning long-term engagements should give the companies that have doubts [confidence], and so we're referencing those points to be able to win them over, to help get past that objection," he said.

Kent Tibbils, vice president of marketing at ASI, a Fremont, Calif.-based distributor that works with Intel and AMD, said more of his customers are making plans for AMD-based server deployments with second-generation EPYC compared to the first generation.

"They have gone from interest or curiosity to, 'OK, now we have plans in place for customers that want them,'" he said.

However, Tibbils, AMD will still have to overcome Intel's strength in the channel while balancing the needs of larger partners and customers with smaller resellers.

"It remains to be seen whether they will be broad enough to support all the channel resellers that are doing servers," he said.

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