AMD Buys Pensando in a Bid to Challenge Amazon Web Services

Image of an AMD Ryzen chipset.
AMD buys Pensando to increase their chip portfolio and rival AWS!

In early April, AMD made a bid to acquire the networking chip provider newbie Pensando for $1.9 billion. Both companies confirmed the news to the British magazine The Register. Here, they reaffirmed the belief that Pensando’s chip is superior to Amazon Web Service’s current tech.

At the moment, AWS has drastically stepped up its silicon production. That also pushed other players in the industry, like AMD, to go on an offensive. AMD is currently focused on staying relevant amid Amazon’s strides. They also hope to dominate the consumer and professional markets in the future.

In this fight, AMD hopes that Pensando’s cloud-like architecture in chip production technology will compete with SmartNIC/DPU/IUP produced by rivals like Nvidia and Intel.

Forrest Norrod, head of DCS Business Group for AMD, admitted that the value behind AWS’s Nitro chiplet is evident. He also said Pensando’s tech can help them reach that level of interface platform standardization and even surpass it.

‘’I really believe they’re two to three years ahead of anybody else in the industry,’’ Norrod said in the interview.

The tech behind Pensando is intriguing in itself, with its main component being a packet CPU. You can also program and attach this CPU to any server via a PCIe connection. The custom and customizable software can vastly increase networking speed, security, storage management, and other processes, which can solve various issues.

With the upcoming PCIe 5.0, the solution’s value will likely increase.

Pensando Praised by Customers

Soni Jaindani, CBO at Pensando, explained how their solution’s second generation is eight to thirteen times faster than the 100Gbps Nitro system.

”We still don’t have any confirmation, and the company still hasn’t disclosed any tests. Theoretically, a PCIe 4.0 solution can reach a speed of 1024 Gbps. That’s 10 times more than the current report by the AWS Nitro. Yet, we still have to see if the Pensando system can also reach those speeds.”

Currently, Microsoft Azure uses the system. Azure has also provided a statement in the AMD official press release on April 4. In the statement, Microsoft Azure praises the Pensando solution as being full-stack. It also mentions the hyper-scale software and the P4 programmable feature.

Azure states it has witnessed a forty-fold increase in cloud networking performance when using Pensando’s tech. This will surely intrigue new customers onboarding the solution. More importantly, it’ll also speak to AMD shareholders, who have supported the acquisition.

Additionally, other clients, like Goldman Sachs, have praised the product. Other notable examples include Hewlett Packard and Oracle Cloud. They all report a significant increase in networking speed and reliability since switching to Pensando’s tech.

We should note here that we don’t know these companies’ previous capabilities. This increase is only compared to what was used prior, and not to any current AMD and Pensando competitors.

Screenshot of a Somi Jiandani tweet announcing the Pensando purchase by AMD.
Somi Jiandani announces the purchase of Pensando by AMD.

Networking, Silicone, and SmartNIC

According to Norrod, the draw towards Pensando was more than just their established silicone production. It was also a finished software solution they can use. Namely, he believes that Pensando’s tech will assist the portfolio of AMD’s silicone. In turn, it’ll help them create something more than standard SmartNICs.

Originally, AMD approached Pensando to fill its missing SmartNIC niche. Yet, Norrod also expressed that this technology will go far beyond that task.

Primarily, Pensando’s tech can manage multiple tasks, making it very adaptable to the position it needs to fill. Because of this, it doesn’t directly compete with AMD’s recent Alveo SmartNIC FPGA.

The Field Programmable Data Array has a stronger core, so it can do more heavy lifting. Yet, it isn’t as programmable as the Pensando solution, which can manage more tasks at the same time.

“In the future, these two solutions should complement each other. In doing so, they’ll create the best networking technology franchise possible,” said Norrod.

Photograph of Forrest Norrod.
Forrest Norrod, Head of the Data Center Solutions Business Group for AMD.

AMD to Integrate Chiplet Designs into Its Portfolio

This new tech in AMD’s portfolio is a great tool to add to their belt. It’s also another piece of the puzzle to comprise the larger picture. Pensando’s adaptive tech will allow the Silicon Valley giant to mix and match its designs. That way, AMD can answer the evolving market’s demands.

Overall, they should be able to blur the lines between CPU, I/O subsystems and SmartNIC, which will vastly increase performance and efficiency. This idea can also increase AMD’s presence on the smartphone market as an APU supplier.

This market is bound to grow steadily in the future, so AMD may become established ahead of its competitors if they succeed. They’ll have an adaptable solution that can improve on the chiplet designs used in the Ryzen and Epyc CPU lines.

The Pensando boost and the tech acquired from Xilinx will push AMD to produce compelling CPU solutions for consumers and businesses. These solutions are also likely to see large-scale adoption.

Competitive in the Present, Dominant in the Future

We can talk about the future all we want, but AMD’s competition with AWS Nitro System isn’t guaranteed. In fact, nothing is certain until we receive AMD’s test results from the recent acquisition. 

For now, the goal for AMD isn’t to become the industry forerunner. Rather, they intend to maintain their competitiveness with AWS, Intel, and Nvidia. Things will only become clearer when AMD offers a sustainable SmartNIC option or a better alternative.

If everything the powers at AMD and Pensando say is true, we can expect AMD’s domination in network processing solutions. That said, we can’t know when that’ll happen or what the market will be like.

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