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Can AMD make its way into the embedded market?

VR-Zone sits down with AMD’s embedded boss Scott Aylor to talk about AMD’s push into the world of embedded processing.

AMD's Scott Aylor speaks at Computex. (Photo credit: AMD)
AMD’s Scott Aylor speaks at Computex. (Photo credit: AMD)

Last week during AMD’s Computex 2014 keynote, Lisa Su, one of the company’s senior vice presidents and its general manager, said that AMD is now a very different company that it once was in the heyday of the last decade. For AMD, the PC is still very important but so are its new markets. Consoles is one of these markets, but so is embedded — a market traditionally ruled by non-x86 players.

Intel also has made a big push for the market under its banner of “Internet of Things” but for a company of its size, the hardware wins seem to have not yet migrated en-masse from powerpoint to the real world.

AMD isn’t going to let Intel have a monopoly in the x86 embedded space. With it’s G-series of embedded chips — formally known as “Steppe Eagle” and “Crowned Eagle” — and the R-series of “Bald Eagle” chips, AMD is making an aggressive push for this embedded space.

The big question is can AMD’s embedded division rack up the hardware wins? The ambition from the company is certainly there.

At Computex, VR-Zone got a chance to sit down with Scott Aylor, AMD’s general manager of embedded, to see where AMD plans to go in the large and diverse market.

VR-Zone: In the next five to 10 years, what sort of growth do you see in AMD’s embedded space compared to its traditional PC market?

If you think about the number of embedded applications, and the number of things that are moving from dull embedded experiences to rich embedded experiences, it continues to show tremendous growth. Our approach is looking at the diversity of markets — there’s plenty of opportunity — and finding markets that are high growth rate, are aligned in their value proposition with what AMD is good at, and then leverage our ability in solving the customer system level problem.

In the embedded space, your performance and specs matter but it’s really about ‘how do you solve the customer system level problem?’. The value that we provide is: ‘how do we translate our technology into something that provides a richer system level experience’.

VRZ: What’s AMD trying to emphasize with the markets its targeting with embedded?

What you see is a lot of these markets have a strong visualization component, which goes back to think about what AMD is strong at: strong in compute and strong in industry-leading graphics — everything from single display to multi-display. The other thing if you look at those markets is that there’s one that has no visualization at all, which is communications and networking infrastructure.

What we’re doing there, is we are focusing on how we can turn loose the GPU as a massively parallel processor. At it’s fundamental core that’s what a GPU is — a massively parallel processor. And what we find in communications and networking is that there’s many tasks that are essentially the same thing repeated in parallel many, many thousands of times. Things like security and deep packet inspection. So we’re thinking how do we apply our technology and solve some of the industry challenges in the embedded space.

VRZ: How do you compete traditional players in that space? How do you go to a vendor and say ‘AMD can do this better?’ What’s the sales pitch?

Well there’s a couple of things. First, really one of the things that’s a pretty tremendous opportunity for us in the networking and communication space is today data center and networking and communications are kind of two very different things today. But when you look at what’s happening in the future, with the advent of some open standards technologies like software defined networking and network function virtualization. In the future these kind of things may come together.

When you look at companies that have the right DNA in order to compete, with a strong heritage around networking and compute as well as a server heritage, there’s very few people that are well positioned around this next wave of evolution that’s going to occur in networking and communications.

AMD, with our strong presence in both, has a pretty tremendous opportunity there. The other thing that we see in the space is a lot of times people will build very bespoke solutions with hard microcoded data paths that offer a lot of performance but are fairly inflexible, fairly niche, fairly boutique. If you look at what we’re trying to do with turning loose the GPU for acceleration, it means it’s fully programmable. It means it’s fully scalable. So you don’t have to worry about [different architectures on the same system]. We like to give the option for people to use the same architecture up and down the performance stack, and also as we see the advent or migration of the merging between networking and data center through some of these different initiatives we want to use that to our strengths. We have server heritage and a strong product lineup in that area. That’s how we talk to people when we see they are interested, because they are interested in seeing something that’s programmable and scalable all the way from the edge of the network all the way up into the data center.

VRZ: One of the other embedded markets that AMD is focusing on is casino gaming. With this market comes a whole unique set of security concerns. What’s AMD’s pitch to these security-minded vendors?

When you look at the various different markets of casino gaming, and it varies quite a lot, some people have dedicated processors [for security reasons]. But when you look at what we’re doing, we’re starting to add what we call a “platform security processor” which essentially means that we have the capability to provide secure boot by encryption, and secure transactions. This means that we’re starting to take what people have historically had a dedicated processor for outside the chip and bring that internal. That means it’s very difficult for a hacker to take the parts of the board and attempt to reverse engineer them, or get code out of them, they can’t. Because it’s locked and fused.

These are the kind of things that we’re offering, and that’s something that you’ll continue to see from us as well. More and more security features.

One of the things that we see in that particular space is everything is kept local for security reasons. When I say local, every machine has its own security and there’s very little networking in casino gaming. The reason why is that every time there’s a connection, there’s another point of potential penetration and security to worry about. We see that a lot of times today people handle it through dedicated processors and tight security at every individual machine.

VRZ: Moving on to arcade gaming, one of the other markets AMD is targeting for embedded, is it growing? Stagnant? Shrinking?

I think Arcade is a flat-ish market. I don’t think it’s a market in decline or one that’s positioned for massive growth. A lot of the uptake we see has actually been around the consoles, but there’s actually been a pretty interesting re-emergence of people trying to [port] console titles to a very rich arcade environment where it’s not just about a single display but maybe multiple displays. It’s a market that’s flat, but one that kind of staging for a wave of innovation based upon a reemergence.

VRZ: Any wins in the sector?

I don’t know that we have things that we can yet talk about.

VRZ: Thanks for your time.


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