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Intel Xeon Boss Jason Kennedy Talks Trust, Innovation and Granulate Acquisition

Shane Snider

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based semiconductor powerhouse has updates planned for its Xeon line of processors through 2024, starting with its fourth-generation business class processor, Sapphire Rapids.

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While much of the attention within the semiconductor industry has been focused on newer technologies such as ARM processors, Intel is betting on improvements in its existing x86 technology to provide peace-of-mind and familiarity for data center needs.

Intel recently announced the roadmap for the company’s Xeon line aimed at data center and business machines, promising a focus on two lines: the Performance-core (P-core) and Efficient-core (E-core) based products.

The P-core releases will include this year’s Sapphire Rapids, with enhanced AI performance and security features, and Emerald Rapids in 2023, which will utilize Intel 7 process node technology and will boost performance. For the E-core, products will include Sierra Forest, which promises unmatched performance-per-watt efficiency, and Granite Rapids, which will upgrade to Intel 3 process node. Both products are slated for 2024 availability.

Jason Kennedy, senior director for customer engagement and product management for Xeon, said his group is balancing CEO Pat Gelsinger’s call for a “torrid pace” of innovation with tried-and-true existing technology. “We’re excited about the accelerating momentum in our Xeon scalable processor family,” he told CRN in an interview. Kennedy (pictured) said over 75 million Xeon Scalable units have been sold since their introduction in 2017. The last generation, “Ice Lake,” sold more than 4 million units, he said. “So we have this very, very strong foundation.”

Kennedy said channel partners can count on Xeon’s proven reliability while enjoying new advances and flexibility with upgraded platforms. “It comes down to being able to provide those systems and things… because of our ongoing and pretty relentless direct investments with our partners to get further optimizations and get more performance or unlock new levels of capability, like hardware enhanced security. Flexibility and choice are important for those end users to be able to confidently bet on Intel base systems that will perform well now and have a foundation for even further innovation going forward.”

Intel is facing stiff competition from AMD and Nvidia in the data center segment – AMD with its EPYC processors and Nvidia’s new Grace chip featuring Arm-based architecture. The impressive speeds of newer technologies are pushing new boundaries, but one partner says x86 tech still has an important role to play in data center work.

Kent Tibbils, vice president of marketing for Fremont, Calif.-based ASI Corp., said Arm processing has interesting uses at the edge and back end, but x86 is still dominant in the mainstream data center market. “I don’t see Arm moving into that bigger part of the market,” he said. “There’s potential for growth, but right now, that mainstream piece is dominated by Xeon and x86. But there are going to be all kinds of verticals within the market in general and different processes and technologies are going to find advantages – so there’s plenty of growth to be found for everyone.”

Kennedy said Intel remains focused on possibilities with artificial intelligence and deep learning, which he said Xeon is more than capable of keeping up with. “AI is increasing its impact everywhere,” Kennedy said. “Being able to have AI technologies and deep learning boost technologies, we built these accelerators into the processor itself and will continue to expand the capabilities generation to generation – it’s a powerful differentiator for us.”

As companies continue to migrate to the cloud, Kennedy said Intel’s recent $650 million purchase of Israeli cloud software company Granulate will help ease the transition by adding more solutions to Intel’s offerings. “We’re thrilled about that opportunity,” Kennedy said of the acquisition. “We’ve engaged with granulate for quite a while. They have already established partnerships with basically all the major cloud and operating environment players. The impact that has made for end users – they’ve seen performance improvements of up to 60 percent by using Granulate’s optimization software. It’s exciting for us.”

ASI Corp.’s Tibbils was enthused about Granulate’s prospects as well. “That acquisition was really interesting and exciting because Intel is creating processing solutions by adding accelerators instead of cores, and for companies who want to take advantage of those accelerators [Granulate’s] software can speed up that process. That’s a really big deal. If they can come in there and help make that process more efficient and less costly, that’s a big win for partners.”

Kennedy said Intel will remain focused on channel partnerships. “Our channel relationships remain critical,” he said. “The expectation is that we’ll address their needs as a company, and rightfully so. There are regional considerations – the complexities of the business requires the channel to reinforce. Intel’s not just a chip company. We’re making those investments in relationships [in the channel].”

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