Graphcore Readies Launch of 16nm Colossus-IPU Chip

By Tiffany Trader

July 20, 2017

A second $30 million funding round for U.K. AI chip developer Graphcore sets up the company to go to market with its “intelligent processing unit” (IPU) in 2017 with scale-up production for enterprise datacenters and cloud environments planned in 2018. The company emerged from stealth mode in the fall of 2016 with $30 million in series A funding. Total raised capital now stands at $60 million.

The funding infusion will facilitate the launch of Graphcore’s first chip, codenamed Colossus. The 16nm massively parallel, mixed-precision floating point processor is expected to ship to early-access customers before the end of 2017 with general availability to follow in early in 2018.

Presenting at the Research and Applied AI Summit (RAAIS) on June 30, 2017, Graphcore CTO Simon Knowles shared high-level details of the architecture, captured in this slide (and first reported on by EE News Europe):

“[With 1,000 processor units per chip], it’s designed from the ground up for machine intelligence,” said Knowles. “It’s nothing like a GPU; it’s a very large state-of-the-art 16nm FinFET chip and we put two of those on a PCI Express card and bolt them together.

“It’s designed to be clustered into arrays but [for] our first product we put two on a PCI Express card and that’s equivalent to buying a GPU card. You can plug it into the same socket and you can run the same software that you’ve written in TensorFlow or something like that. It will just run faster; same power budget, same physical form factor.”

Knowles emphasized that Graphcore is not building a machine specifically for neural networks. “Neural networks are clearly important but it has to think more fundamentally [to have long-term utility],” he said, presenting the following listing of desirable attributes:

Knowles claims performance will be “well beyond the Nvidia Volta and well beyond the Google TPU2 card.”

Graphcore is also working on establishing a community of developers and partners for its Poplar graph framework software, which provides an interface to multiple machine learning frameworks, including Tensorflow, MxNet, Caffe2 and PyTorch.

When the company debuted last year, Graphcore CEO Nigel Toon told us he sees AI as an opportunity for disruption in the silicon status quo much like mobile was — notably for ARM — but with potentially an even larger market. Research firm Tractica forecasts that AI will grow to tens of billions of dollars a year in less than a decade (source).

In addition to its planned launch and software ecosystem development strategies, Graphcore already has its sights set on securing a 2018 funding round and future growth opportunities. The company intends to more than double its 60-person workforce over the next year.

The series B funding round, announced today (July 20), is led by London-based venture capital firm Atomico. The money comes out of the $765 million Atomico IV venture fund, one of the largest VC funds ever raised in Europe. Returning investors include Amadeus Capital, Robert Bosch Venture Capital, C4 Ventures, Dell Technologies Capital, Draper Esprit, Foundation Capital, Pitango and Samsung Catalyst Fund.

Notable solo investors include new Uber chief scientist Zoubin Ghahramani; cofounder of London-based machine learning AI startup Deepmind, Demis Hassabis; and UC Berkeley professor and OpenAI researcher Pieter Abbeel. Cofounders of the non-profit AI research firm OpenAI Greg Brockman and Ilya Sutskever are also investing.

Watch Simon Knowles’ entire RAAIS talk below:

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