Why Nvidia Bought Mellanox: ‘Future Datacenters Will Be…Like High Performance Computers’

By Tiffany Trader

March 14, 2019

“Future datacenters of all kinds will be built like high performance computers,” said Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang during a phone briefing on Monday after Nvidia revealed scooping up the high performance networking company Mellanox for $6.9 billion.

If that’s your vision – as it is Nvidia’s – that’s a darn good reason to buy one of the world’s leading HPC interconnect companies. Of course, there are other reasons too, playing keep-Mellanox-away-from-Intel for one. Another that might not have been top of everyone’s mind: getting a foothold in Israel — although if you watch the space closely, you know what a hotbed of technological innovation Israel is.

But the primary reason is Nvidia’s conception of the changing strategic role, and changing architecture, of the datacenter of the 2020s.

“Datacenters are the most important computers in the world today, and in the future – as the workloads continue to change triggered by artificial intelligence, machine learning, data analytics and data sciences – future datacenters of all kinds will be built like high performance computers,” said Huang.

Enter Mellanox:

“We believe that in future datacenters, the compute will not start and end at the server, but the compute will extend into the network. And the network itself, the fabric, will become part of the computing fabric. Long-term, I think we have the opportunity to create datacenter-scale computing architectures; short-term, Mellanox’s footprint in datacenters is quite large. […] We will be in position to address this large market opportunity much better,” he said.

Rumors are that the Mellanox bidding process, which kicked off last year under pressures from activist investor firm Starboard (which purchased a 10.7 percent stake in the company in November 2017 – see our coverage at the time), was highly competitive and that Intel was a top contender. Huang would not or could not confirm reports that Intel was in the mix. But he said the bidding was competitive owing to the interconnect – specifically the intelligent interconnect – becoming more important than ever, with more of the computing workload conducted on the interconnect fabric. This is the so-called offloading approach that is fundamental to Mellanox’s technology strategy.

Huang also praised Mellanox’s style of networking and their “extraordinary” software stack that has been “galvanized and integrated into a large body of work over a long period of time.”

In explicating the hot bidding process, he also pointed out the attractiveness of Israel, where Mellanox is headquartered. “It’s a technology center – the culture, the spirit of the people, the richness of technical excellence makes it a great place,” he said. “It’s one of the world’s great AI development centers and tech development centers.”

Taken together, with its high powered GPUs, its DGX machines, its development on NVLink and NVSwitch, and now an end-to-end interconnect portfolio, Nvidia is more than a de facto systems company, a point which Huang essentially conceded, although he said he prefers the term “datacenter scale computing company.”

“We were a GPU company and then we became a GPU systems company. We became a computing company which started from the chip up, now we are extending ourselves into a datacenter computing company,” he said.

Jensen Huang introducing the DGX-2 appliance – with eight Mellanox NICs – at Nvidia’s 2018 GPU Technology Conference.

Nvidia sees itself as a different style of company from other vertically integrated vendors. “We create the entire architecture, but we componentize it in such a way that we can partner with the entire IT ecosystem. We componentize our technology by thinking about scalability from one GPU to thousands of GPUs and in the future millions of GPUs. We think about it from a scalability perspective and from a compatibility perspective, so as a result we can offer our components to the entire IT industry, so that everybody can build computers and configurations that pleases them, and that solves their problems,” Huang said.

“Our business model won’t change even though we continue to expand into a systems sensibility; we’re not a systems company, if you will. We are really a systems architecture company,” Huang added, underscoring the distinction. “We open ourselves to partner with our customers and partners however they like. If they would like to bundle our DGX servers like NetApp and Pure and DDN, we’re delighted by that. If they would like to purchase our HGX motherboard, basically the systems board inside our DGX, to put into their cloud, like what Google has done and Microsoft has done and others have done, we’re delighted by that. If you would like to buy our chips and build your own systems, we’re delighted by that or if you would like to buy it in add-in card form. The thing we work hard is to make sure they are all compatible so the CUDA acceleration libraries work perfectly on top of all of them.”

There’s a reason for the caveating and careful language, the hedging with regard to Nvidia committing to the systems business – and it’s a point that Addison Snell, CEO of Intersect360 Research shared with us. “Nvidia does need to be careful that its aspirations do not threaten their important partners on the server side. While Nvidia can sell components and reference architectures directly to hyperscale companies and ODMs, they shouldn’t take the traditional OEM channel for granted.”

Really the only missing element from a complete systems stack at Nvidia is the general purpose CPU. Nvidia had intentions to get into the CPU game reaching back to 2011 with Project Denver, but discarded those plans. With Arm momentum high and Arm looking for partners to make its Neoverse chips, many are thinking it’s a natural next step for Nvidia.

But Huang, when asked about this, seemed less than excited by CPUs – as a market opportunity, that is. He repeated his stance that the company believes in serial processing (acknowledging “you cannot parallelize everything”), but affirmed that while Nvidia is happy working closely with all the major CPU companies – IBM, AMD and yes Intel (“people think we are antagonistic, but it’s just not true”) as well as Cavium/Marvell, Ampere and Broadcom on the Arm side – it sees more benefit to focusing its R&D on engineering capable of delivering “x factors of improvement.”

“I think if we were to pour a bunch of R&D into building CPUs today, the x factor you get, after five years, is about 15 percent — and [the CPU makers] battle over 15 percent!” said Huang. “And since they’re doing such a good job battling over 15 percent we could invest our R&D on the areas that get big x factors – the places where people aren’t investing. And I think that accelerated computing was severely underinvested, and so our return there has been fantastic and it’s going to continue to be fantastic and getting better.”

Getting back to the Mellanox deal, it’s largely held as a strategic buy by market-watchers.

“Nvidia at $10 billion capex versus Mellanox at $1 billion suggests that Nvidia sells many more customers, has a more extensive sales/distribution channel and a global service infrastructure,” said one long-time industry observer we spoke with. “Via economies of scale, by simply dropping the Mellanox product line into the Nvidia portfolio should drive the Mellanox line of business significantly. This could be the principle reason they paid nearly $7 billion. They looked at Mellanox’s leading technology, factored in their customer base and channels, and estimated the sales opportunity over a period of time, typically three-to-five years. Nvidia must feel they can drive the Mellanox business unit to $7 billion in three-to-five years, as well as enhance their core products.”

Back on the technology side, Snell noted that “the combination of Nvidia and Mellanox is intriguing for HPC and AI. The companies are respective leaders in their high-performance technology areas, and each has ridden important growth trends. Nvidia’s purchase of Mellanox not only locks in potential synergies in advancing high-bandwidth connections for accelerated systems, but also protects the technologies from Intel, which is a natural competitor to both companies.”

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Graphcore Introduces Next-Gen Intelligence Processing Unit for AI Workloads

July 15, 2020

British hardware designer Graphcore, which emerged from stealth in 2016 to launch its first-generation Intelligence Processing Unit (IPU), has announced its next-generation IPU platform: the IPU-Machine M2000. With the n Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

heFFTe: Scaling FFT for Exascale

July 15, 2020

Exascale computing aspires to provide breakthrough solutions addressing today’s most critical challenges in scientific discovery, energy assurance, economic competitiveness, and national security. This has been the mai Read more…

By Jack Dongarra and Stanimire Tomov

There’s No Storage Like ATGC: Breakthrough Helps to Store ‘The Wizard of Oz’ in DNA

July 15, 2020

Even as storage density reaches new heights, many researchers have their eyes set on a paradigm shift in high-density information storage: storing data in the four nucleotides (A, T, G and C) that constitute DNA, a metho Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Get a Grip: Intel Neuromorphic Chip Used to Give Robotics Arm a Sense of Touch

July 15, 2020

Moving neuromorphic technology from the laboratory into practice has proven slow-going. This week, National University of Singapore researchers moved the needle forward demonstrating an event-driven, visual-tactile perce Read more…

By John Russell

What’s New in HPC Research: Volcanoes, Mobile Games, Proteins & More

July 14, 2020

In this bimonthly feature, HPCwire highlights newly published research in the high-performance computing community and related domains. From parallel programming to exascale to quantum computing, the details are here. Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

AWS Solution Channel

INEOS TEAM UK Accelerates Boat Design for America’s Cup Using HPC on AWS

The America’s Cup Dream

The 36th America’s Cup race will be decided in Auckland, New Zealand in 2021. Like all the teams, INEOS TEAM UK will compete in a boat whose design will have followed guidelines set by race organizers to ensure the crew’s sailing skills are fully tested. Read more…

Intel® HPC + AI Pavilion

Supercomputing the Pandemic: Scientific Community Tackles COVID-19 from Multiple Perspectives

Since their inception, supercomputers have taken on the biggest, most complex, and most data-intensive computing challenges—from confirming Einstein’s theories about gravitational waves to predicting the impacts of climate change. Read more…

Joliot-Curie Supercomputer Used to Build First Full, High-Fidelity Aircraft Engine Simulation

July 14, 2020

When industrial designers plan the design of a new element of a vehicle’s propulsion or exterior, they typically use fluid dynamics to optimize airflow and increase the vehicle’s speed and efficiency. These fluid dyn Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Graphcore Introduces Next-Gen Intelligence Processing Unit for AI Workloads

July 15, 2020

British hardware designer Graphcore, which emerged from stealth in 2016 to launch its first-generation Intelligence Processing Unit (IPU), has announced its nex Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

heFFTe: Scaling FFT for Exascale

July 15, 2020

Exascale computing aspires to provide breakthrough solutions addressing today’s most critical challenges in scientific discovery, energy assurance, economic c Read more…

By Jack Dongarra and Stanimire Tomov

Get a Grip: Intel Neuromorphic Chip Used to Give Robotics Arm a Sense of Touch

July 15, 2020

Moving neuromorphic technology from the laboratory into practice has proven slow-going. This week, National University of Singapore researchers moved the needle Read more…

By John Russell

Max Planck Society Begins Installation of Liquid-Cooled Supercomputer from Lenovo

July 9, 2020

Lenovo announced today that it is supplying a new high performance computer to the Max Planck Society, one of Germany's premier research organizations. Comprise Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

President’s Council Targets AI, Quantum, STEM; Recommends Spending Growth

July 9, 2020

Last week the President Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) met (webinar) to review policy recommendations around three sub-committee reports: Read more…

By John Russell

Google Cloud Debuts 16-GPU Ampere A100 Instances

July 7, 2020

On the heels of the Nvidia’s Ampere A100 GPU launch in May, Google Cloud is announcing alpha availability of the A100 “Accelerator Optimized” VM A2 instance family on Google Compute Engine. The instances are powered by the HGX A100 16-GPU platform, which combines two HGX A100 8-GPU baseboards using... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Q&A: HLRS’s Bastian Koller Tackles HPC and Industry in Germany and Europe

July 6, 2020

In this exclusive interview for HPCwire – sadly not face to face – Steve Conway, senior advisor for Hyperion Research, talks with Dr.-Ing Bastian Koller about the state of HPC and its collaboration with Industry in Europe. Koller is a familiar figure in HPC. He is the managing director at High Performance Computing Center Stuttgart (HLRS) and also serves... Read more…

By Steve Conway, Hyperion

OpenPOWER Reboot – New Director, New Silicon Partners, Leveraging Linux Foundation Connections

July 2, 2020

Earlier this week the OpenPOWER Foundation announced the contribution of IBM’s A21 Power processor core design to the open source community. Roughly this time Read more…

By John Russell

Supercomputer Modeling Tests How COVID-19 Spreads in Grocery Stores

April 8, 2020

In the COVID-19 era, many people are treating simple activities like getting gas or groceries with caution as they try to heed social distancing mandates and protect their own health. Still, significant uncertainty surrounds the relative risk of different activities, and conflicting information is prevalent. A team of Finnish researchers set out to address some of these uncertainties by... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Turns Its Massive Crowdsourced Computer Network Against COVID-19

March 16, 2020

For gamers, fighting against a global crisis is usually pure fantasy – but now, it’s looking more like a reality. As supercomputers around the world spin up Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Rallies a Legion of Computers Against the Coronavirus

March 24, 2020

Last week, we highlighted [email protected], a massive, crowdsourced computer network that has turned its resources against the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe – but [email protected] isn’t the only game in town. The internet is buzzing with crowdsourced computing... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Supercomputer Simulations Reveal the Fate of the Neanderthals

May 25, 2020

For hundreds of thousands of years, neanderthals roamed the planet, eventually (almost 50,000 years ago) giving way to homo sapiens, which quickly became the do Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

DoE Expands on Role of COVID-19 Supercomputing Consortium

March 25, 2020

After announcing the launch of the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium on Sunday, the Department of Energy yesterday provided more details on its sco Read more…

By John Russell

Neocortex Will Be First-of-Its-Kind 800,000-Core AI Supercomputer

June 9, 2020

Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC - a joint research organization of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh) has won a $5 million award Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Honeywell’s Big Bet on Trapped Ion Quantum Computing

April 7, 2020

Honeywell doesn’t spring to mind when thinking of quantum computing pioneers, but a decade ago the high-tech conglomerate better known for its control systems waded deliberately into the then calmer quantum computing (QC) waters. Fast forward to March when Honeywell announced plans to introduce an ion trap-based quantum computer whose ‘performance’ would... Read more…

By John Russell

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

By Doug Black

Leading Solution Providers

Contributors

Nvidia’s Ampere A100 GPU: Up to 2.5X the HPC, 20X the AI

May 14, 2020

Nvidia's first Ampere-based graphics card, the A100 GPU, packs a whopping 54 billion transistors on 826mm2 of silicon, making it the world's largest seven-nanom Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

‘Billion Molecules Against COVID-19’ Challenge to Launch with Massive Supercomputing Support

April 22, 2020

Around the world, supercomputing centers have spun up and opened their doors for COVID-19 research in what may be the most unified supercomputing effort in hist Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Australian Researchers Break All-Time Internet Speed Record

May 26, 2020

If you’ve been stuck at home for the last few months, you’ve probably become more attuned to the quality (or lack thereof) of your internet connection. Even Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

15 Slides on Programming Aurora and Exascale Systems

May 7, 2020

Sometime in 2021, Aurora, the first planned U.S. exascale system, is scheduled to be fired up at Argonne National Laboratory. Cray (now HPE) and Intel are the k Read more…

By John Russell

Summit Supercomputer is Already Making its Mark on Science

September 20, 2018

Summit, now the fastest supercomputer in the world, is quickly making its mark in science – five of the six finalists just announced for the prestigious 2018 Read more…

By John Russell

TACC Supercomputers Run Simulations Illuminating COVID-19, DNA Replication

March 19, 2020

As supercomputers around the world spin up to combat the coronavirus, the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) is announcing results that may help to illumina Read more…

By Staff report

$100B Plan Submitted for Massive Remake and Expansion of NSF

May 27, 2020

Legislation to reshape, expand - and rename - the National Science Foundation has been submitted in both the U.S. House and Senate. The proposal, which seems to Read more…

By John Russell

John Martinis Reportedly Leaves Google Quantum Effort

April 21, 2020

John Martinis, who led Google’s quantum computing effort since establishing its quantum hardware group in 2014, has left Google after being moved into an advi Read more…

By John Russell

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This