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AMD to acquire SmartNIC and networking firm Pensando for $1.9 billion

Strengthens SDN smarts for hyperscalers, small clouds, and maybe 5G, gives Xilinx some work too

AMD has announced it will acquire networking vendor Pensando for $1.9 billion.

Pensando co-founder and CTO Vipin Jain recently told The Register the company aspires to be "the Nvidia of infrastructure" by building an accelerator that relieves CPUs of the need to handle common networking chores (feel free to call it a SmartNIC/DPU/IPU) and tying that to a distributed services platform that orchestrates deployment of relevant workloads into those devices.

"We are building a processor that can do cloud processes at obscenely high speed and low cost," Jain said, before asserting that the company has a product suited to both hyperscalers and smaller service providers.

The company emerged from stealth two years ago, has a management team that's already launched billion-dollar businesses elsewhere, including at Cisco, and has won investment from Qualcomm and Ericsson.

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AMD's confirmation of the deal reveals that Pensando kit has already found a home at Goldman Sachs, IBM Cloud, Microsoft Azure and Oracle Cloud.

In the formal announcement, Microsoft corporate vice president for Azure Girish Bablani remarked: "We have seen a 40x improvement in overall cloud based connection related performance. Pensando delivered this in less than 12 months."

Oracle Cloud's executive vice-president Clay Magouyrk hailed Pensando as "a key strategic partner."

Also in the acquisition announcement, Lisa Su, AMD chair and CEO stated: "To build a leading-edge data center with the best performance, security, flexibility and lowest total cost of ownership requires a wide range of compute engines."

"Today, with our acquisition of Pensando, we add a leading distributed services platform to our high-performance CPU, GPU, FPGA, and adaptive SoC portfolio … which expands our ability to offer leadership solutions for our cloud, enterprise and edge customers."

That reference to edge may well encompass carriers and 5G, a role in which SmartNICs are expected to play a big role by increasing compute density and efficiency at base stations.

Pensando CEO Prem Jain is quoted as being "excited to join the AMD family" on both a personal level and on behalf of Pensando, which will become as part of AMD's Data Center Solutions Group, led by AMD senior veep and GM Forrest Norrod.

One thing the announcement does not address is what the deal means for AMD's acquisition of Xilinx, which also touched on SmartNICs. It's not hard to see Xilinx getting excited about working with Pensando's silicon designs.

The sale is expected to conclude in the next 90 days. Once it's done, AMD will arguably have a better SmartNIC position than major rival Intel, which is still sorting out its hardware and works with partners like Nvidia and VMware for orchestration software.

The latter is felt to be close to a commercial release of code to manage SmartNIC/IPU/DPU hardware, meaning AMD may have stolen a march with its Pensando acquisition. ®

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