Online giants like eBay Inc (NASDAQ:EBAY) and Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) are being courted by Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC) as the chipmaker is promising increased performance custom to each companies needs.
The company is looking to embed programmable chips called FPGAs (field-programmable gate array) in the same package as its Xeon server processors. Said FPGAs would be programmable to each companies specific requirements.
What in the FPGA is that?
“For the right application, we believe FPGAs can provide an order-of-magnitude improvement in performance” over standard Xeon chips alone, said Diane Bryant, senior vice president and general manager of Intel’s data center division.
Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC)’s business model in the past has allowed customers to select different clock speeds, core counts, and other options but each essentially received the same general purpose processors.
Cliche aside, the “rise of the giants” coupled with the growth of mobile has made Intel shift gears in order to offer companies like Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN), Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL), Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB), and eBay Inc (NASDAQ:EBAY) additional attention while charging them more from chips that better suit their purposes.
Bryant also announced the Intel’s willingness to build company specific algorithms directly into the Xeon itself and told reporters that the company is looking to deliver over 30 unique chip designs before the year ends. The announcement was made at Gigaom’s Structure conference in San Francisco today.
Two ways to provide Intel’s FPGA
Bryant illustrated two very different methods that companies could benefit from the new strategy. Firstly, Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC) can deliver a Xeon package with the FPGA in order to test the workload on the customer’s server. If it does, the company will then burn it to the Xeon itself and manufacture the chip minus the FPGA. Alternatively, it will deliver the dual-chip package and allow the company to reprogram the chip if its needs change in the future.
FPGAs are nothing new, but they are often simply small components on the motherboard, by integrating them into the chip package they can accelerate workloads by allowing the FPGA to access the Xeon’s cache on-chip cache and main memory, according to Bryant.
Applications are changing faster than new chips can be designed and brought to market, Bryant said. “This is a great way for the silicon to keep up with the pace of software innovation,” she said.
Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC)’s decision to go this route is two fold: the continued growth of large-scale cloud applications and a industry shift towards more flexible, software defined infrastructure.