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Pat Gelsinger: Intel Will Be ‘More Ecosystem-Friendly’ Than Nvidia

Dylan Martin

In his exclusive interview with CRN, Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger talks about how Intel’s recent reorganization will give more attention to Intel’s “under-focused” graphics and network businesses, how Intel plans to win market share from Nvidia and why Intel is looking at building new paid software services and purpose-built systems in the future.

When you were CEO of VMware, Nvidia was important strategic partner, and over the last year, we've seen that partnership bloom. It has resulted with vSphere enabling the virtualization of GPUs , and this year Nvidia launched its own software suite called Nvidia AI Enterprise , which works in tandem with vSphere as part of an exclusive agreement between VMware and Nvidia. I have to imagine you're privy to all these details and all these things that have happened. Paid end-user software services seem to be an important strategy for Nvidia going forward in how customers take advantage of compute, how they manage compute and how they deploy AI applications. Is the strategy of offering paid software services something that Intel is considering more of in the future? 

Are we considering it? Yes, of course. Software is clearly making that move to more SaaS-oriented software delivery, so in some regards, it‘s a very somewhat natural progression, and having done a lot of this for the last eight years at VMware, I’ve gotten a deep appreciation for it and the challenges.

I‘d also say again, though, what [are] the ecosystem-friendly views of those services? How do we build on what others do? And even as we might establish some of those capabilities that we do ourselves and deliver [them] as nice compliments to our products, I’d say that’s also part of the reason I brought [CTO] Greg Lavender in [as head of the new Software and Advanced Technology Group], somebody who builds software at scale and [knows] what it requires to deliver SaaS services at scale. So beyond that, I’d say, we haven’t laid out specifically definitive plans at this nascent phase, but I do expect that you’ll see more in that area: How do we leverage our software assets? How do we have unique monetized software assets and services that we’ll be delivering to the industry, that can stand in and of their own right? And yeah, that’s a piece of the business model that I do expect to do more in the future.

Three years ago, when Intel was on the search for its next CEO [ after Brian Krzanich left ], John Fortt of CNBC called you out as a good fit for the role. But then you responded on Twitter that you love being the CEO of VMware and that you weren't going anywhere else. The part of the statement I want to focus on is what you said after that, which was, “the future is software!!!” Now that you are back at Intel, have you changed your mind about that statement?  

Well, I‘ll make two little comments. One is maybe self-deprecation a little bit at this point. But I’m the sitting CEO of a software company. What could I say? And as a software CEO, what I say at that point matters for a publicly traded company called VMware as well as what my interest may or may not have been at the time in Intel. So first, there’s a little bit of contextualization there that’s appropriate.

[The] second aspect to it is: think about the overall hardware versus software industry. Thirty years ago, hardware was 2x the size of software. Here we are today: Software is 2.5x the size of hardware. That‘s a pretty simple observation that hardware has grown, software has grown dramatically, and software and SaaS and some of the things that we were already talking about in that respect.

And if you go back to the answer to the last question: Are we going to have more software revenue, software products at Intel going forward? Yes. Customers have moved from being focused on the hardware level to the software-level interfaces, and our job now and some of the things that I‘ve learned in my 11-year vacation is delivering silicon that isn’t supported by software is a bug. We have to deliver the software capabilities, and then we have to empower it, accelerate it, make it more secure with hardware underneath it. And to me, this is the big bit flip that I need to drive at Intel.

To deliver a hardware product that doesn‘t have the full support of the software ecosystem already in place. Why did you waste the transistors? Why did you waste the validation time? Why are you wasting this power budget for our customers if you haven’t enabled the software ecosystem? Software is more important. Those APIs are more important. The developer is more important. And in that sense, I have to essentially create that flip at Intel to fully realize what we do in silicon. Not only do we need to deliver the software, the BIOS, the firmware, the p-code, all of those things, the PyTorch support, etc., concurrently, but in fact we need those delivered quarters or years ahead of time so software development can be in place by the time we deliver the hardware that enhances it.

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