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New Intel CTO Greg Lavender Talks ‘Developer Reboot,’ Making ‘More Sophisticated Software’

In an exclusive interview with CRN, new Intel CTO Greg Lavender talks about the company’s ‘developer reboot,’ which includes an unprecedented persuasion campaign for independent software developers, and building ‘more sophisticated software’ to create new business opportunities for partners.

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The work that you did at Citibank and then VMware, obviously you were very much focused on software-defined data centers and networks. How is that experience informing what you’re doing at Intel? 

For any enterprise customer, telco, even with virtualization infrastructure—let’s say everybody’s at least bought into the idea of Infrastructure as a Service. Infrastructure as a Service provides that sort of foundational software abstraction over which you get efficiencies on how to manage things. You get more reliability because you can bring more nines with VMware vMotion. Single-node, multi-node failures don’t take your system down. You can still operate.

I think the thing that Intel does, where we provide that foundation with all of our processors—let’s take the server side—with all of our core technology. And so RAS features—reliability, availability, scalability—are fundamental features of the [Intel Xeon] platform, where something like VMware gets to do its thing. And so when you bring those two layers together, whether it’s in a public cloud, whether it’s in a [colocation facility], whether it’s in an enterprise, a telco, you abstract the developer away from the fundamentals that most of us have been working at, the lower-level software stack. So the value transfers up stack, and you get into Platform as a Service, Containers as a Service, Data as a Service, and now we’re all talking about AI as a Service. So as you get into those higher levels of X-as-a-Service abstraction, you still need that fundamental layer [to be] rock solid, even more so. But at the same time, you need it to scale, so it’s not about building a single CPU in a single system. It’s multiple CPUs with multiple cores with large memories, and lots of racks of servers that are power-efficient, reliable as much as possible, and then that software layer has to be always on.

And so I think with Intel, what I bring and where Pat is taking us is, whoever that software Infrastructure-as-a-Service provider is, whether it’s VMware, whether it’s Google [Cloud], whether it’s Amazon [Web Services], whether it’s [Microsoft] Azure, whether it’s private clouds, hybrid clouds, we’re going to be there. We have some competition obviously from AMD, but it’s OK, we like competition. It makes us smarter, makes us work harder.

But we have to move the value chain up the stack, because all the things we do, which is foundational software, is now taken for granted. We still have to do it well. It has really good quality—we can’t break. And at the same time, we need to enable the value of partners and channel and whatever up stack to drive additional value out of that system. So therefore, we also have to move up stack with them because they’re moving to higher levels of abstraction. So when I look at all the foundational technology—compilers, firmware, BIOS—that’s table stakes.

And so what we‘re looking at now is how can we be more enabling with our partners. [I’ve been] talking to the CTOs of Dell, [Hewlett Packard Enterprise], Microsoft. I was on [a call] with Red Hat’s CTO [recently]: How do we partner [on things like] containers, make containers more secure? How do we get zero trust in these platforms from the client edge device all the way back to the cloud?

So all these higher-level things all become quite relevant, and we could open up our platform from a power management perspective, security perspective to give those application layers opportunities to take advantage of our [silicon] root of trust, take advantage of the capabilities we can provide to help do dynamic power management or what have you. We have these efficiency cores and performance cores [in the upcoming Alder Lake client CPUs]. Don’t just leave it up to the operating system to decide what to do. Let the OEMs, ODMs and the channel partners have access to APIs that can do whatever they want to do, let’s say in the telco or in the edge. It really is about us becoming more heterogeneous and then providing more sophisticated software to let other value chains realize the value from that total system, not just a single processor or a single box.

When you’re talking about developing software that’s further up that value chain, are these things that are in development and we haven’t really seen yet? 

It’s because we‘re working with [Microsoft] Windows and we’re working with Linux [partners]. We’re working with our existing partners—both server and client PC partners—to enable all those capabilities. So I will say that Windows 11 would have those capabilities. It takes a couple years to incubate this stuff and get it into the ecosystem. With the Intel [Innovation event] in [late] October, we’ll be announcing some of the things.

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