Hector Ruiz | From handhelds to data centers

Interview with Hector Ruiz, AMD chairman and CEO

"Virtualization, manageability and security are three huge drivers ..." Hector Ruiz

During the five-year tenure of chairman and CEO Hector Ruiz, Advanced Micro Devices Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., has steadily gained market share in the x86 processor industry, starting as supplier-of-choice to hobbyists and gray-box builders, to counting the first-tier hardware vendors among their clients. This gain has come mostly at the expense of its archrival, Intel. Although the company has encountered some growing pains, AMD is on track to release its next-generation quad-core processor, known as Barcelona, in the second half of this year. AMD is also striving to provide enterprises and government agencies with a more energy-efficient approach to computing. Ruiz will be a keynote speaker at this year's FOSE tradeshow, so GCN caught up with him to ask what he'll be talking about.

GCN: What do you think will be some of the hot technology issues at FOSE this year?

Ruiz: Energy-efficient computing. I would imagine there would be a lot of interest in ... what companies are doing to address the challenge of an energy-efficient computing ecosystem. This is not a simple challenge.
It's actually an ecosystem challenge. It encompasses not only the people that make microprocessors, but the people that build the ecosystem around the processors and the way the software is developed.

GCN: Why did AMD purchase graphics card maker ATI last year?

Ruiz: The future of computing is going to be driven by a number of things in technology. One of them is visualization.

When 32-bit computing was introduced [more than] 10 years ago, the industry moved from command-driven computing to icon-driven. ... I think the next evolution, which is 64-bit computing, is going to enable visualization where you can see the impact computing has in a more productive way.

One of the reasons we bought ATI is that it has a very strong graphics technology that allows us to bring visualization to computing that is very powerful. One of the early indications of the possibility is going to be the implementation of the Vista [operating system] from a Microsoft perspective.

Visualization technology actually is going to be pervasive, from handheld devices such as phones all the way to supercomputing. And the capability ATI has actually starts with very small handheld devices. A lot of the high-end PDAs [personal digital assistants] you see on the market today have graphics done by ATI.

The last piece which is very important to us is being able then to take the graphic-processing capability and combine it with the computing-processing capability AMD already has. You then have the ability to judge how much heterogeneous computing you want to put on a piece of silicon wafer. If you do that, you can provide solutions to customers that are really tailored exactly to solve their problems.

GCN: The purchase of ATI falls in line with some other initiatives you have announced at AMD: Torrenza, the move to get providers of accelerator technology to implement their products on the AMD platform, and AMD Fusion, the move to integrate computing and graphic processors. What impact will these initiatives have on the government market?

Ruiz: Take the initiative of Torrenza as an example, where we are opening up the architecture to give people the opportunity to innovate on a platform that we created.

This allows government to have access to a much broader array of technology and innovation than they would otherwise. That has a big impact. It makes government procurement more efficient, because instead of acquiring a general-purpose technology, ... you can acquire very specific solutions that are better and lower-cost.

The Fusion side is a way of saying we think combining the graphics-processing unit and the CPU into a piece of silicon [is a good strategic direction]. You can really balance the things that each one does best.

GCN: You have other initiatives such as Trinity, which is focused on security, manageability and virtualization at the client level.

Ruiz: Virtualization, manageability and security are three huge drivers in the enterprise that people are concerned about. We have worked with people in the virtualization industry to optimize the architecture of our platform.

Manageability is ... being able to expand, contract and change the architecture of the enterprise in a way that is very manageable at a low cost, and secure. We do that in an open-platform environment versus the competition, which is closed. If anybody comes up with innovation that improves manageability, our strategy ... allows for that innovation to be implemented readily.

The market, especially government, would find that attractive because the rate of innovation in these areas changes almost daily. In this manner, a platform would evolve with changes in the industry.

GCN: Then there is also Raiden. How does this fit into managing the client?

Ruiz: Raiden is an attempt to ... redefine the architecture of the enterprise, working with end users.

As an example, [a user might want] to reapportion the load that goes between the server and the client. So perhaps you have a more manageable client [desktop or notebook PC].

So you can have a very-thin-client enterprise with a heavy-duty, virtualized back room, which would be quite safe because most of the safety would be centrally controlled in the server arena. That is getting a lot of attention, a lot of attraction.

The benefits are pretty obvious: If you can manage hundreds of thousands of clients, that would be darn near perfectly safe just by moving workload back to the server and less to the client. That is how the Raiden initiative is related to Trinity.

GCN: Sounds like the whole idea of thin client is back again

Ruiz: You're right, the thin-client concept came around some time back, and it just didn't make it. ... Frankly, I think it was a number of things. First, the technology wasn't mature enough. Secondly, the use of virtualization in today's servers [is] incredibly powerful.

All of those changes have led to the possibility of architecture in the enterprise with highly virtualized server environments with a thin client on the other end. There are several pilots around the world today. So far, they've been very positively received. My sense is that this is something that will occur.

GCN: Your next-generation architecture for servers, workstations and desktops will debut midyear. Is it on track?

Ruiz: Yes. We're on track. The code name ... is Barcelona. It is a completely new microprocessor. It is four cores on a chip. The cores are completely different. The architecture on the chip is very innovative, very new. We believe it's going to offer a significant improvement. By that, I mean [a double-digit percentage improvement] over what we currently have.

So we're talking about, depending on workload, the application, things that can range 40 to 50 percent better in performance and performance per watt. That's a major, major breakthrough.

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