I had the chance to talk with Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger and newly-minted CTO Greg Lavender before the company’s IntelON developer conference. We’ve seen Gelsinger’s cards related to design, manufacturing, strategy, and it’s now time to see what’s new for developers. I wanted to better understand Intel’s developer value proposition better, why developers should choose Intel, and what’s different since Gelsinger came on the scene.
What became evident early very quickly into the conversations was that both Gelsinger and Lavendar had great articulations on the value of developers and the increased value of software developers. This is all part of Gelsinger’s “bringing the Intel geek back” that evaporated a bit over the past few regimes.
First off, Gelsinger couldn’t believe that Intel stopped doing IDF as it was the “soul of the geek machine.” For what it’s worth, it was always puzzling for me to fully why IDF went away as developer conferences were popping up like kudzu. I can understand Gelsinger’s point of view as I remember that PCI and USB were essentially created by Intel and brought to life with developers. Gelsinger shared some stories about making the IP available versus taxing the industry, and I’m glad the company made it available as I doubt PCI or USB would be as prevalent as it is today had it come with a license. To be fair, Intel does get the jump on the development, but it does seem fair if it’s not charging a licensing fee. If Intel didn’t create these kind of innovations, who would step up and do this? I think this is a good question to ponder.
Gelsinger and Lavender didn’t want to spend too much time talking hardware developers and instead seemed focused on software developers- and that’s a good sign and not unexpected. Gelsinger was the VMware CEO for eight years, and Lavender had been a CTO and SVP at VMware. While I can’t share yet the announcements that were shared with me, software developers are absolutely the target, increasingly AI, ML, and edge developers. That doesn’t mean there won’t be some major hardware announcements- there will, but the focus will be on software developers.
There’s no doubt that Gelsinger is on a mission to neutralize and one-up NVIDIA’s CUDA. I believe this is the biggest thing that Intel can do, as while I think Intel can field a competitive GPU and SoC, many developers are locked into CUDA. I believe only Intel has the resources to disrupt this, has the biggest need to do this; therefore motivation and Intel can leverage expense across many kind of its own accelerators (CPU with ASIC block, ASIC, GPU, FPGA). Gelsinger knows that other processor companies need to adopt OneAPI for it to achieve what it needs to do as OneAPI is not just about making Intel successful. I could also make the argument that it could be about the industry having easy access to ALL compute architectures to solve problems.
While I don’t think a CUDA abstraction layer in OneAPI will outperform native CUDA, I don’t think it has to in order to succeed. It needs to get “close.” NVIDIA has outsmarted OpenCL and a long list of companies related to CUDA, and I expect NVIDIA to run whatever play it takes to keep CUDA relevant and clearly on top. This will be interesting.
From many of the uninformed or those with lack of history, I get questions like “why would developers focus on Intel” at all. First off, Intel has a commanding platform market share lead in the growing PC market and server processors, with increasing processor businesses in storage, networking, and the edge. I believe Intel is well-positioned in the growing networking and edge businesses. Intel has just introduced its first discrete GPUs in decades for commercial and consumer gaming markets. It has discrete ML training accelerators now. All of this is new, and as a developer, unless you think Intel will fail, you have to develop for Intel in these areas. If there’s one thing I have learned in over 30 years in and around processors, you never count out Intel.
So, what should you expect from the IntelON event? I’d expect a re-commitment to developers, a new focus by new leaders, new programs tailored to developers with an approach of “meeting them where they are.” When developers hear the announcements I was clued into, I believe many will be music to their ears. Gelsinger knows he has an important battle to fight for developers to hear that music, but if anyone can conduct the orchestra, I think he can.
You can sign up for the conference here and starts Wednesday.