In 1965, Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Intel came up with an observation that has defined the trajectory of the computing industry. Now referred to as Moore’s Law, the prophecy proposed that the number of transistors on a silicon chip would double every two years, at half the cost – simply put, computer processors would become faster and cheaper at an exponential rate.
Remember the good old days of Pentium 3 and 4 computers where a 512 MB RAM was considered state-of-the-art? If you were into video games like I was, you’d be lucky to have a friend with a computer device with that kind of processing power in your neighbourhood – today, you have a device 4-8 times more powerful than that computer in your pocket, or more likely, in your hands right now.
However, since 2010, experts have questioned the continuance of the law – and perhaps nobody has been affected as much as Intel. That said, Rajeeb Hazra, the corporate vice president of Intel’s Data Center Group – which accounts for about 40 percent of the company’s total revenue – seems optimistic.
Far from believing that Moore’s law is coming to an end, Hazra believes that silicon is as important as ever. With the focus shifting to optimising processors to carry out more complex and numerous processes than before, Hazra says it is very important to target these workloads in energy-efficient ways.
He does acknowledge that competition is a big challenge. AMD’s third-generation Ryzen chips, in particular, seem to be putting Intel in a spot of bother, with a leaked memo from the company acknowledging AMD as a tough competitor in high-performance computing.
While Hazra stops short of mentioning AMD directly, he does say that being the best while offering a differentiated product set and delighting the customer is a tough challenge. That last point is also key to Intel’s future strategy.
In a space where disruption has always been fierce, the threat of competition has forced Intel, which has traditionally dominated its target markets, to be more agile. “Disruption happens every day”, says Hazra, “The key thing to do is to look at customer values and try to disrupt ourselves.”
Over the course of the 20-minute interview, Hazra repeatedly reiterates the importance of the customer - but it’s no longer about identifying products that customers want to see as much as it is about identifying the ways in which customers are likely to use the products they already have.
Hazra says that Intel is able to do this with a three-pronged strategy – their product lines are geared towards moving data faster, storing more data in the right places and computing data in energy-efficient ways – and these three prongs have to be underpinned by a strong security network.
Cybersecurity has become something that all enterprises have to focus on, Hazra says while mentioning that we’re likely to see a greater focus on it in the future as well.
The conversation meanders towards India, and Hazra is quick to stress the importance of the country for the company, not just as a market but as a talent pool as well. “India is part of our global innovative engine – it’s not a little satellite site, it’s a meaningful place where we do our major project line, chip design and development.”
He recounts hearing of Indian villages that would have buses with internet access points driving around so that citizens could get WiFi access for a few hours a day. “The ingenuity of the country in solving some real challenges makes it very attractive for us to participate here and learn”, he says, while adding that the application of Artificial intelligence (AI) and proper use of data can not only solve issues of population and scale but also catapult the country to a whole new ballgame as a problem-solver.
Hazra’s enthusiasm doesn’t fade when I mention the now-controversial data localisation policy that the country seems to be intent on adopting. Restricting the storage of “sensitive” data within the geographical boundaries of the country is something that many technologists have taken issue with, and while Hazra refuses to share what he thinks about the policy, he also says that it’s not his or Intel’s business.
"Regulation is not our business, it’s the government’s business, and our goal is to find technological solutions that satisfy the confluence of the end-user value and whatever the policy-makers are trying to protect.” I try to pin him down, but I’m unsuccessful.
We chat about AI, Cloud, EDGE, 5G and the confluence of all of these. As my last question, I ask him what he’s most excited about for the near future. His answer is fascinating. “I think my children might be the very last generation that ever learns to drive. Two generations from now, they’ll ask ‘why would I drive? Who wants to do that?’” and highlights that AI is now enhancing human capabilities.On my way back to the office, as the car hits pothole after pothole on a weather-beaten section of the Mumbai road, I find myself doubting his conviction. He’s the technologist, though, and if he’s right, the future is exciting indeed.