Krzanich Says Intel is Not A CPU Company Anymore

“We don’t think of ourselves as a CPU company anymore,” Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said yesterday during his interview at Code 2017. “We think of ourselves as a data company,” he said, making the products that will collect, do analytics, storage, and transmission of all of the data that will be generated by the many devices in the world. He said devices have to be connected to the cloud to add value, because analytics on a lot of data is what is most important.

During the interview, Krzanich touched on a variety of areas—from PCs and drones to the cloud and AI processors.

He said there have been a lot of innovations in the PC market over the past several years, especially, pointing to improvements in ease of use, battery life. “You’re going to see some real innovation in form factors, size, usability, multiple screens, coming in the next few years,” he said, later explaining that by multiple screens, he meant a device that worked as a physical notebook replacement that could have a keyboard when you wanted it, and could switch between monochrome and color, etc. He said PC sales are nearing stability, but that Intel has been able to increase its profitability because people are “buying up” to things like the Core i7 and the recently introduced Core i9 chips. Still, he said, 60-70 percent of Intel’s profits will come from growth areas outside the PC.

Co-host Walt Mossberg asked him about the rumors that Apple is considering using its own chips (such as the ones used in iPhones and iPads) rather than those from Intel in the Mac. Krzanich said Apple is always looking for the best performance, and “I actually believe that somewhere inside that company somebody is trying to see if they use their ARM-based cores to scale up into that space. As an engineer, I think they’d be foolish not to do that test and see if they can.” But he said Intel’s job is to make its products so compelling—in terms of performance, battery life, the way it can integrate features from MacOS, and cost, so that they will continue to choose Intel. “We always look at it as a competitive market we have to win.”

In the cloud and the data center, Krzanich said, Intel thinks not about the processor itself, but about the entire server rack. He noted that Intel has more than 90 percent of market share of the computing inside data centers, whether in-house or in the public cloud or private cloud.

During the question period, I asked him about Intel’s reaction to recent AI chips, such as Nvidia’s Volta GPU and Google’s Tensor Processing Unit. “We really want to provide people with processors that can go across multiple workloads,” he said. GPUs and TPUs are good for certain workloads, but he said Intel has Atom that can handle workloads in an autonomous car, Xeon for general servers, Xeon Phi to compete with GPUs, FPGAs for video analytics, and Nervana, an AI-specific ASIC Intel recently acquired.

Every 10 or 15 years, Krzanich said, new workloads come into the computing market; an AI is such a change. The first thing that happens is people build ASIC accelerators, and then use FPGAs (field programmable gate arrays). “We’ve seen this cycle before,” he said. Intel wants to participate in the market through FPGAs, which can be easily reprogrammed; and through the chips provided by Nervana, which it thinks can compete or beat GPUs, TPUs, and other application-specific accelerators. All the products will start to get branded Nervana, he said, but you’ll have a variety of different features, costs, and energy levels, all the way down to Movidius, another company Intel recently purchased, which makes chips for drones.

On other topics, he said, Intel is interested in commercial drones, not consumer, and is particularly focused on how data is ingested and how you can apply AI to things like inspecting power lines and cell towers. He talked about the company’s new partnership with Major League Baseball and with other sports leagues to bring VR to sports, such as showing what the Super Bowl field looked like to Tom Brady. He said this involved 50 high-definition cameras at box level in the stadium that sent information back to a massive service, which converted the data to voxels, and created a complete visual model of everything that could be seen from any angle. This uses 2 terabytes a minute of data; it has also been used in the NBA and the NCAA basketball finals.

He seemed particularly bullish about autonomous driving, saying the average car today has about 80 small microprocessors designed for specific things, but that “the car of the future will be more like a server.”

This led into a discussion about Mossberg’s hope for new privacy laws that set some rules about what happens with all the data that can now be collected. Krzanich said he tended to agree that some new regulations would be needed, not so much for devices you put in your home (because you’ve chosen to do that, and presumably agreed to the terms of service), but particularly for data collected by things like cars. These will know where you drive and what speed you drive, but more importantly, in order to drive successfully, it has to look at everything and everyone, and see people on the street, license plates of other cars, etc. In those cases, privacy laws must be re-examined, he said.


Michael J. Miller is chief information officer at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Miller, who was editor-in-chief of PC Magazine from 1991 to 2005, authors this blog for PCMag.com to share his thoughts on PC-related products. No investment advice is offered in this blog. All duties are disclaimed. Miller works separately for a private investment firm which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this blog, and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.

http://www.pcmag.com/article/354082/krzanich-says-intel-is-not-a-cpu-company-anymore

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