AMD Wants Into The Cloud, Not Smartphones


AMD wants to have its processors in the heart of cloud-based data centres, and will be launching its own netbook platform – but will leave smartphones to the experts

Advanced Micro Devices CEO Dirk Meyer sees cloud computing as the next great investment for the enterprises and says AMD’s processors are going to be a big part of this type of future data centre. He also sees AMD launching its own netbook platform, but passing on the increasingly popular smartphone market.

The cloud, along with virtualization technology, offers the best return on investment for cash-strapped businesses, Meyer said in an interview with eWEEK just before AMD spins off its manufacturing facilities into a new business.

“Cloud computing is an idea that is starting to become more than an idea,” Meyer said. “We are starting to see fairly big firms devote real money toward data centres that are purpose-built to deliver applications over the Web,” he added. “I view that as a good opportunity for us to partner with some of these customers and optimise what we do toward their needs alongside our OEMs.”

While AMD is working to make its processors respond to the needs of cloud computing, Intel is also eager to see its chips used in these types of data centres. Specifically, Intel is touting some of the new features found in its “Nehalem”-based processors as key innovations in realising the dream of a cloud computing infrastructure.

Virtualization at the chip level and power efficiency are cornerstones of cloud computing, said Meyer. Both Intel and AMD plan to enhance the virtualization capabilities of their microprocessors within the next year. Specifically, both companies are looking to allow for greater use of virtual memory and working on ways to create virtual I/O.

In 2008, AMD and Red Hat demonstrated the live migration of a virtual machine from an AMD-based server to a system using an Intel chip.

“Really good virtualization performance is one thing and the other is good power efficiency,” Meyer said. “There is also the need for good performance. At the end of the day, people forget that faster computers are still important to have and faster ones are better than slow ones.”

While AMD is investing in the cloud, Meyer said the chip maker is not interested in investing in the popular smartphone market at this time. However, AMD does plan to move aggressively into the “netbook” and mininotebook market dominated right now by Intel and its Atom chip and platform.

The difficulty of moving into the smartphone market now, as Meyer sees it, is that it’s a space crowded with other chip makers, including Samsung, Qualcomm and, soon, Intel. Also, AMD recently sold off the handset division it inherited when it purchased ATI, which means AMD does not have some essential pieces needed to offer a compelling smartphone platform.

“We looked at the silicon suppliers there and we saw that there were a lot of big players there, like Qualcomm, TI, Freescale, Infineon… and it’s a really crowded market space and it’s tough to play in that space if you don’t have all of the IP,” said Meyer. “We then decided to let our handheld division be aggregated by selling it as opposed to trying to purchase big companies to compete in that space. It’s too crowded. I like the space we’re in and the competition is more limited.”

However, Meyer did leave the door open to a future investment in smartphones.

The other area of interest to AMD is notebooks. At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, AMD rolled out its “Yukon” platform for use in new types of inexpensive laptops that would offer larger displays and more graphics capabilities than netbooks and other types of mininotebooks such as the Asus Eee PC.

While AMD is not competing against the Intel Atom processor right now, Meyer said his engineers are working on a platform for notebooks called “Ontario,” which will offer a counterweight to future Intel, Nvidia and Via offerings. Meyer did not say when the Ontario platform would enter the netbook market.

“We saw those form factors on the horizon and explicitly decided not to invest our R&D dollars ahead of the market,” Meyer said. “We decided to focus on the traditional desktop, server and notebook markets and drew the line at netbooks a couple of years ago. Now, we do have netbooks in our product development pipeline.”