Intel, which has a mammoth share of the server market, recently launched the much-awaited (and much delayed) 4th Generation Xeon® Scalable processor codenamed Sapphire Rapids. In an email interaction with businessline, Santhosh Viswanathan, Managing Director & Vice President, Sales, Marketing & Communications Group, Intel India, shared his thoughts on what the product—described by the company’s CEO Pat Gelsinger as “way too complex to build”—means for the industry and on other developments shaping it. Excerpts:
Sapphire Rapids is finally out...almost two years behind the originally scheduled launch date. In all, we are talking about a 5-year development phase. So, are you happy with what you have as an end product?
Intel’s 4th Generation Xeon® Scalable processor is engineered to enhance performance across rapidly evolving workloads of artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, networking, storage, and high-performance computing (HPC). The processors have the highest number of built-in accelerators, making it one of the most powerful CPUs (central processing units) available today. In fact, as Intel’s most sustainable data center processors, they deliver customers a range of features for managing power and performance, making the optimal use of CPU resources to help achieve their sustainability goals. These processors are purpose-built, with a lot of thought having gone into the kinds of workloads they need to be able to handle. So, I would say that yes, unlike any other data center processor on the market and already in the hands of customers today, the Sapphire Rapids is delivering greater compute density to address customers’ real-world requirements and reduce power footprint.
Suddenly, thanks to ChatGPT, everybody is talking about AI, and particularly generative AI. How do you see Sapphire Rapids changing the course or hastening the process?
Intel recognised the tremendous potential of AI early on. Through R&D and strategic investments, we scaled the use of AI, both in the enterprise and consumer markets. This has enabled Intel to stay ahead of the curve and continue to drive innovation in AI-powered solutions, especially in data centers.
Generative AI is not new. Convergence of AI around large transformer models has been happening for a couple of years now. While AI was generating a need for total compute capabilities, Generative AI has fuelled a new level of engagement that will require new levels of compute, which is an opportunity for the semiconductor industry. You need to have chips that will address compute demand, but do it in a way that will address performance/watt or performance/Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) requirements.
With 4th Gen Intel® Xeon® processors, one of the new acceleration engines we’re introducing is called Intel® Advanced Matrix Extensions (Intel® AMX). This accelerator is built to support industry-relevant deep learning datatypes. Intel AMX enables massive (up to 10x) performance increases for deep learning, inference, and training, which is ideal for workloads like natural language processing, recommendation systems, and image recognition.
While we talk a lot about chips, it is important to remember that AI is a software problem. And you need the software ecosystem so [that] customers can code and get the best performance out-of-the-box. Developers are the subject-matter experts, and they want to get the best performance out of the box while remaining as hardware-agnostic as possible. This is where the Intel® Xeon® Software ecosystem has strength. It is one of the most open and adopted ecosystems out there. We believe that without an open approach, adoption will be limited.
Digital India in now both the journey and the destination. As a company that has closely worked with the government in the past, can you please share your plans for the country’s digital transformation?
As India is at the forefront of a technological revolution, we strongly believe that this is our country’s time to shine, and Intel is excited to be a partner of choice in harnessing this opportunity. Through our collaboration with local entities, we are connected to the ‘Make in India’ momentum and committed to contributing to our country’s growth and development.
Today, as digital innovations and internet users continue to grow in India, an enormous amount of data gets generated. Although India accounts for 20 per cent of the world’s data, it currently has less than 2 per cent of the global data centre capacity to accommodate this growth. Now, with the evolving landscape, data has become the new oil, and data centres are their refineries, and Intel has been one of the essential ingredients for data centres. For decades, we have been at the forefront of developing hardware-level security solutions and delivering reliable data centre products. Our recent 4th Gen Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors can effectively enhance the performance of rapidly expanding workloads while simultaneously helping organizations meet their sustainability goals. This wealth of experience and expertise allows us to provide tailored solutions that meet the ever-evolving needs of our customers and support India’s aspirations of becoming a top-tier digital economy.
You claim that you are ‘net positive’ on water in three countries. And you are supposed to be manufacturing the new Xeons with 90-100 per cent RE and through state-of-the-art reclamation facilities. Considering that your latest chip for blockchain applications also had reduced energy need [for crypto mining] as one of the main objectives, how do you see the new paradigm of environmental response driving product development/business decisions?
The technology sector has witnessed tremendous growth and innovation over the past few decades, with new products and services emerging at an unprecedented rate. However, with this rapid development comes the need to address the environmental impact of the technology industry. The significance of practicing sustainability lies in the fact that it helps to reduce the environmental footprint of technology products and services, thus enabling businesses to minimize their environmental impact and promote a more sustainable future.
We are advancing more sustainable computing across our business, which means more environmentally conscious data centres and networks, and more energy-efficient products, platforms, and software. Our 4th Gen Intel® Xeon® Scalable processor is a testament to our commitment to sustainability. Secondly, built-in acceleration is an alternative, a more efficient way to achieve higher workload performance than growing the CPU core count. The latest Intel Accelerator Engines and software optimizations help improve power efficiency across AI, data analytics, networking and storage. Organizations can achieve a 2.9x average performance per watt efficiency improvement for targeted workloads utilizing built-in accelerators compared to previous generation.
Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors also have built-in telemetry tools that provide vital data and AI capabilities to help intelligently monitor and manage CPU resources, build models that help predict peak loads on the data centre or network, and tune CPU frequencies to reduce electricity use when demand is lower. This opens the door to greater electricity savings, the ability to selectively increase workloads when renewable energy sources are available and an opportunity to lower the carbon footprint of data centres.