By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc. August 24, 2016
I spent most of last week at the annual Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in San Francisco. Much as it has in previous years, the conference offered the company’s senior executives, including CEO Brian Krzanich, EVP and GM (of the Data Center Group) Diane Bryant and IOT president Murthy Renduchintala a high-profile venue to discuss and demonstrate Intel’s latest products and upcoming innovations.
However, the context of these and other presentations placed a particular emphasis on the critical roles developers play in evolving Intel’s technologies. In fact, company announcements referred to IDF’s 6,000+ attendees as “change-makers” – a term with weighty connotations that stresses the level of respect that Intel has for its developer partners.
That may not seem like much of an insight. After all, it is the Intel Developer Forum. But the heightened emphasis on developers and the critical roles they play in driving transformational changes is especially important this year.
Why so? In the first place, sales in core Intel markets, including PCs and associated peripherals, have slowed markedly and show little promise of regaining past momentum. So pointing a way forward is critical to both the company and its partners’ long term financial health.
Second, many of these new technologies have either attained or are approaching the momentum they require to positively impact the marketplace. Effectively pursuing those opportunities requires developers to be more than just engaged; they need to be fully inspired to create compelling new products and customer experiences.
Those who dismiss “change-makers” as a rhetorical stunt or simplistic cheerleading misunderstand a dynamic that has fueled 50+ years of Intel-based achievements. They also risk missing the shift to new technologies that should drive the company’s and its developer partners’ future success.
So what were some of the transformational technologies in focus at IDF2016?
- Autonomous driving – Like most other silicon vendors, Intel sees huge promise in self-driving cars. What’s not to like? Every autonomous vehicle requires hundreds, if not thousands of sensors, microprocessors and field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), plus associated software to monitor, manage and maintain driving functions. But those onboard components are just part of a far larger infrastructure, including backend data centers and robust wireless gear and communications networks that ties the autonomous ecosystem together. End-to-end processes and solutions are Intel’s stock in trade, and the company made a convincing pitch about the value its products, including various silicon solutions, Altera FPGAs and Wind River software bring to autonomous driving. The dozens of automobile design wins based on Intel technology, plus its scores of existing OEM and other partners in the auto industry helped tell the tale. So did Baidu, China’s biggest Internet search firm which joined Intel on stage to announce a partnership for developing new safety and collision avoidance technologies.
- Joule SOM – The Internet of Things (IoT) drives a lot of optimistic chatter among vendors, but what are they doing to ensure developers get a seat at the IoT table? In the case of Intel, CEO Brian Krzanich’s keynote included the introduction of Joule, a high-performance system-on-module (SOM) platform with support for Intel RealSense depth-sensing cameras. Designed for rapid prototyping of solutions that require high-end edge computing, Intel sees Joule as an ideal platform for applications, including computer vision, robotics, drones, industrial IoT, VR, AR and micro-servers. Joule initially comes in two models – 570x and 550x – and the former was available for sale at IDF 2016. Market opportunities for Joule and other Intel solutions were also in focus during an onstage discussion led by IOT president, Murthy Renduchintala.
- SoCDF & Stratix 10 – The Intel SoC (System on Chip) Developer Forum which runs in parallel with IDF featured the launch of Intel’s Stratix 10 FPGA. Stratix 10 is the first Intel-manufactured FPGA based on its 14nm process technology, following its acquisition of Altera in June 2015. CEO Brian Krzanich outlined the company’s vision and strategy for FPGAs and SoC FPGAs, including investment in and growth of the business through the development of discrete FPGAs and SoC FPGAs that integrate both Intel and AMD architectures.
- Merged reality – Not surprisingly, Intel devoted a good deal of time to artificial intelligence (AI) technologies and products at IDF. Not surprising because AI has been a seriously hot topic in 2016, but the company is also a current and future stakeholder in AI markets. On the end user side, Intel introduced Project Alloy, a new self-contained headset that differs significantly from products like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive because it doesn’t rely on a PC for processing power. Intel envisions Project Alloy as the platform for developing “merged reality” applications for consumer and workplace markets. EVP and GM Diane Bryant handled the data center portion of Intel’s AI presentation, focusing on a new generation of Xeon Phi server chips, and the recent acquisition of deep learning pioneer Nervana Technologies. As Bryant noted, the current state of AI is “still nascent” with just 7% of servers worldwide support machine learning applications and only 0.1% running related deep neural nets. Bryant noted that Intel-based systems are used in over 90% of those workloads but competitors, including NVIDIA are pressing hard and fast to exploit new market opportunities. The new gen Xeon Phi silicon and the Nervana deal both suggest that Intel is significantly upping its game and visibility in AI, a point that should encourage developer partners.
- Intel/ARM – Two of the more interesting announcements at IDF 2016 involved ARM Holdings, whose technologies play leading roles in smart phones and other mobile endpoints. As noted above, Intel announced plans to develop FPGAs and SoC FPGAs that integrate its own and ARM’s architectures. But Intel also announced that it was licensing ARM technologies to enable engagements with third-party semiconductor firms that will leverage Intel’s 10-nanometer production lines for manufacturing ARM-based chips for smartphone and other devices.
While some may be surprised by the Intel/ARM agreements, they reflect the IT industry’s longstanding ability to support “co-opetition” where competing parties work together to gain more than they would working separately. In particular, opening its 10nm fabs to ARM production will provide Intel welcome new revenue streams and also enable smaller semiconductor firms ways to compete against larger players with their own fabs.
But the deals also qualify as reality checks for Intel and ARM. In highly complex, emerging use cases and markets, such as autonomous cars, IoT, AI and merged reality, solutions supporting heterogeneous technologies are likely to be more common than homogenous, single vendor platforms. As such, the willing cooperation between Intel and ARM reflects a recognition of the world as it is, a point that should please developers, especially those that support both technologies.
Overall, IDF 2016 offered much to consider and celebrate. The event’s core message – celebrating developers as “change-makers” whose efforts are key to that process – was welcome news for the thousands of IDF attendees. IDF 2016 also demonstrated that Intel is moving forward with its eyes wide open, not abandoning the past so much as searching for, taking up and investing in innovative opportunities and partnerships wherever and with whomever is appropriate.
© 2016 Pund-IT, Inc. All rights reserved.