Interviews

“It’s an Interesting Time to be in Technology”

Mario Silveira, the Corporate Vice President at AMD EMEA, speaks about the market for computing hardware and associated technologies, during a pandemic

How does AMD innovate in terms of technologies?
We go the extra mile to make our customers happy. This ethos is most obvious when you think about AMD’s technologies. For instance, our research and development teams have done amazing work in producing the world’s first 7nm x86 processors and the subsequent ‘Zen 2’ core. This effort has borne fruit in the form of the AMD Ryzen Threadripper family, the world’s fastest high-end desktop processors.

The idea that AMD tries harder goes beyond even that kind of technology leadership. Take, for instance, the work AMD has been doing in supply-chain resilience. We worked hard with our partners to ensure industry-leading supply-chain control, redundancy, and sophistication. Because of our close relationships with upstream and downstream partners, we were quickly able to adapt to the uncertainty of COVID-19, and do our part to combat the pandemic, continuing to supply OEMs, channel partners and others with the products they needed. That’s why AMD and our partners have carried on growing, even during the current global health crisis.

Has the pandemic changed the market for computing hardware and associated technologies?
It has. Sales of desktop and laptop PCs have started growing again, simply because so many people have had to work from home – and, initially, at very short notice. As a result, many employers weren’t able to provide staff with the equipment they need, hence the surge in demand. Now organisations have had a chance to take stock, and review the situation, we are seeing more companies invest in new technology and devices directly, which will help people continue to adapt to a more distributed working model. Most companies are investing in technology to enable more comfortable and effective remote working.

This trend is likely to continue. The pandemic has accelerated business digital transformation globally. Millions of consumers are working, shopping, and playing online, so companies have had to adapt at speed. An awful lot of that adaptation has been made possible by technologies such as virtualisation, which enable greater flexibility and scalability. This, in turn, will increase the demand for data centres, servers, and more powerful and sophisticated silicon.

Factor in the trends towards big data, AI and automation and it’s an interesting time to be in technology, and especially in silicon design and manufacture. We now have to keep working hard to ensure people have the tools and services they need.

Across AMD’s product lines and segments — CPUs and GPUs; consumer, server, enterprise and games consoles — what are the long-term trends transforming the industry and what will their impact be?
The biggest trend is towards performance. If you look at the enterprise market, for instance, you need high-performance graphics to enable virtualisation, cloud computing, AI and a lot of the other emerging technologies on which the next phase of business development will depend. To give you one example, if you’re going to virtualise most of your network infrastructure, rather than running a lot of separate hardware switches and load balancers, the server you run those virtual devices on needs to be high spec.

In the consumer space, the deep level improvements in our product architectures by introducing 7nm based designs (think of using Lego Technic, rather than Lego Duplo) has injected real movement into the race for performance. End-users are, quite rightly, very demanding. If I am paying for a mobile device, for instance, I want it to give me the same kind of performance and experience I’d get from a desktop.

If that laptop is in my home office, that performance isn’t just for the day-to-day office applications that I use, it also needs to run Minecraft or Fortnite for when I kick back in the evening and play with my children. It’s the job of hardware manufacturers to keep up with all these varied demands. Finally, when you look at the sheer scale of data in 2020 and beyond, AMD is really gearing up in the data centre to handle the megatrends impacting business and society – such as artificial intelligence.

How has AMD adapted its approach to better serve its customers in light of the immediate challenges of COVID-inspired digital transformation as well as these long-term trends?
We take pride in the fact that, together with our partners, we provide technology and products that the world needs now more than ever. Today, people are working safely and productively at home on AMD-powered laptops, using services running on AMD-powered servers, and searching for medical breakthroughs on AMD-powered supercomputers. If you look at the technologies AMD is developing, we lead in high performance, security features, and sustainable computing.

AMD also leads in the effort to make computing more sustainable, with its 25×20 Energy Efficiency Goal. This has committed AMD to develop processors that are twenty-five times more energy-efficient than they were when the challenge was set in 2014. Our aim was to achieve this by 2020 – and we did. In fact, the third-generation AMD Ryzen Processor with Radeon Vega Graphics didn’t just meet the goal, it exceeded it.

The AMD Partner Hub and Training Portal has also been re-designed to address long-standing challenges our partners face in the market. We developed a virtual engagement model for AMD teams, equipping them for home working. Beyond its own activities, AMD has supported universities and research institutes throughout 2020 with the High-Performance Computing (HPC) Fund. So far this year, we’ve helped three universities set-up supercomputers for their COVID-19 research.

I’ve already mentioned the AMD Ryzen Threadripper processors, which easily deliver the best performance in its category. But the same is true of, for instance, our high-end AMD Radeon™ RX 6000 Series GPUs, which provide a premium gaming experience on desktop. And then there are the AMD EPYC processors, which are currently the world’s highest performance x86 server processors. No matter what sector you’re in, AMD has the technology you need to master the challenges of the COVID and post-COVID environment.

How has AMD factored customer priorities into the design of its products and the way it works with key partners such as OEMs and the channel?
AMD involves partners in building its roadmap and listens to all its retailers, integrators and customers. Consumers demanded smaller, more powerful, but less power-hungry chips. That’s what AMD has delivered. We know portability and power consumption are priorities for consumers, the latter for environmental and economic reasons. The ability to deliver what was previously considered desktop levels of performance on mobile devices helps meet rising user demand for a premium experience – regardless of the device.

As for our relationships with OEMs and system integrators, we’ve been working hard with them to generate awareness and demand for the products. That’s not difficult – these components deliver premium performance. They are also priced to be highly competitive in the market. Often, it’s just a question of getting the word out.

What steps are you taking to strengthen relationships with channel partners and integrators?
We’ve been working intensively on programmes such as AMD Arena, which provides our partners with the resources and support they need to successfully integrate and sell AMD products. For channel partners, we offer industry leading training, as well as a range of highly competitive incentives and rewards. I think everyone has seen that with the AMD Ryzen processors. Well, expect more of the same. Relationships work better when everyone wins. Our OEMs and partners can expect to win when they choose AMD.

As customers have recognised the strong product proposition that we’ve brought to market, it has massively stimulated demand for our products. To meet this demand, AMD is developing deep strategic partnerships with our distributors and our programmes are built around having the right partners, in the right places, to do business in the right way. Bringing certainty to an uncertain market by supporting our channels, sustaining our market credibility and maintaining a robust, reliable partner programme is very important to us.

For customers who have switched from a competitor product to AMD in the past, what strategies worked from an AMD, OEM or channel partner perspective?
Choice is incredibly important. With the introduction of the latest generation of Ryzen and Radeon products, customers are able to offer alternatives to their own product offerings. Competition is incredibly healthy and having a single vendor strategy builds in more risk to customers. Having a competitive scenario is usually a healthy approach in challenging times. Again, the technology and the value for money speak for themselves.

I don’t like the phrase ‘bang for your buck’ – it’s an industry cliché. But it’s true, you do get more bang for your buck when you choose AMD. Whether you’re a gamer or a CISO, who wouldn’t want that? From an integrator’s perspective, who wouldn’t want that as a sales story: buy from us, and you spend less – and get more.

What recent wins are you most proud of?
The particle physics research team at the CERN Large Hadron Collider recently chose to build the systems they use to crunch experimental data on AMD EPYC 7742 processors. That was really cool and brought out a bit of the science fanboy in me. As I think it would in anyone who worked in science or technology! AMD’s work with the High-Performance Computing Center in Stuttgart, to create the 64-core Hawk computer was also a high point, as was the launch of the AMD-powered Mahti supercomputer in Finland. AMD is also the first company to deliver new generations of CPUs and GPUs, back-to-back, for game consoles.

Can you tell us anything about the roadmaps for AMD’s desktop, workstation, and server products, as well as for its GPUs? What should the market be looking out for over the next year?
We released a detailed roadmap in March 2020, which still stands. Neither the pandemic nor any other factors have caused us to delay. The new ‘Zen 3’ architecture, like its predecessor, is based on a 7nm process but it delivers a reduced latency from accelerated core and cache communication, and doubles the directly accessible L3 cache per core, while delivering up to 2.8 times more performance-per-watt versus the competition.

The current public roadmap shows our trajectory and what we’re doing for the current generation, but also for the next generation and the generation after that. Of course, we have teams that are looking beyond that, but we don’t really talk publicly about what we’re looking at, that far out. The biggest change for AMD, compared to how we used to do things years back, is that we have a constantly leap-frogging set of design teams.

This helps us to have this constant innovation process on a 12-to-18-month cycle, taking the time to make sure that we have the right performance for the hardware that we’ve come up with. There’s always a balance, when we design new products, between matching performance with energy-efficiency and design features, and beating industry standards.

To what extent does OEM and ISV feedback play a role in the development of AMD products?
It plays a huge role in our product development and in everything else we do. AMD listens closely to feedback from all of its partners, including OEMs and ISVs. We truly understand the value of software and how it enables a great end-user experience with our hardware, and we’re keen to develop that further here in EMEA specifically, as well as growing our partnerships with market-leading hardware and solutions developers.

What are AMD’s priorities for 2021 and beyond?
For as long as the pandemic continues, our overriding goal is to ensure everyone who works with AMD, both internally and externally, feels protected and supported, to ensure they are able to continue their daily duties in a sustainable way. We’ve achieved this so far. And the company is still on track to hit the commercial milestones it announced in its roadmap in March of 2020. But it’s not something we take for granted.

AMD will continue to do everything it can to make sure staff and partners are safe and that business carries on. A big part of the reason for our success in recent years is AMD’s relationship with its partners, integrators, and suppliers. As head of business development in EMEA, one of my main priorities is to build on the many strengths of those connections — strengths that I have witnessed first-hand during the pandemic.

They will ensure AMD continues to grow while protecting and improving our robust, resilient supply-chain relationships that are going to be so crucial to our success in the coming years. For instance, the roll-out of 5G in many markets is creating demand for new data centre hardware and technologies. There are no pre-existing preferences there, so AMD is starting the conversation early. It’s our goal to become the leading supplier of data centre hardware. AMD is also heavily involved in designing hardware and systems on which to run the blockchain.

Any final thoughts you’d like to share with us?
I’m excited about 2021. I fully expect AMD to grow its market share once more in the next twelve months. We’ll also be working very hard to maintain our reputation for innovation. Whatever we do, I know we’ll owe much of our success to our partners. To end, I shall simply say, ‘thank you’ to all of them.

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Chris Fernando

Chris N. Fernando is an experienced media professional with over two decades of journalistic experience. He is the Editor of Arabian Reseller magazine, the authoritative guide to the regional IT industry. Follow him on Twitter (@chris508) and Instagram (@chris2508).

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