Alibaba to Use AMD Radeon GPUs in Its Cloud Services

The partnership is a big win for AMD, which is trying to compete with Intel and Nvidia in the lucrative data center market.


Advanced Micro Devices officials said Chinese internet giant Alibaba will use the company's graphics technologies in its cloud computing efforts, a significant win for the chip maker as it looks to re-establish itself in the data center against larger rivals Intel and Nvidia.

AMD President and CEO Lisa Su and Simon Hu, president of Alibaba's cloud computing unit, announced the partnership Oct. 14 during the Alibaba Computing Conference in China. According to AMD officials, Alibaba will use AMD's Radeon Pro graphics cards in its global cloud data center as part of an effort to expand its cloud offerings and drive adoption of its cloud-based services.

Graphics has been a key component of AMD executives' larger strategy to grow the company and return it to sustainable profitability. GPUs enable the company to compete in a broad range of growth areas in the industry, including gaming, immersive computing and virtual reality (VR). In addition, GPUs increasingly are used as CPU accelerators in the data center for enterprises, supercomputer and high-performance computing (HPC) environments, increasing the performance of systems while reining in power consumption.

The chip maker created the Radeon Technology Group (RTG) for its GPU efforts and over the past year has unveiled a range of new GPUs, introduced new technologies to the chips like high-bandwidth memory (HBM) technology, rolled out Radeon Software Crimson to replace its Catalyst Control Center and compete with Nvidia's GeForce Experience software, and introduced the Boltzmann Initiative (a project designed to make it easier to develop high-performance computing applications for the FirePro graphics technology). Most recently, AMD has introduced a growing portfolio of GPUs based on its new Polaris architecture, a 14-nanomter 3D FinFET transistor design that helps the chips more than double the performance-per-watt of previous Radeon graphics technologies.

Officials also have begun talking about the company's next-generation GPU architecture, dubbed "Vega."

AMD CEO Su in a statement said a collaboration like that with Alibaba Cloud "helps ensure the investments AMD is making in our high-performance graphics and computing data center products continue to align with the needs of the broader cloud market."

During Alibaba's show in China, the companies demonstrated an Alibaba Cloud solution featuring AMD's Radeon Pro server GPUs.

The chip maker is targeting the data center as another growth area. More than a decade ago, AMD made inroads into the space against Intel with the launch of its Opteron processors, enabling it to grab almost a quarter of the worldwide server chip space. However, Intel, with all of its financial and engineering resources, and missteps by AMD, conspired to knock that market share down, and now more than 95 percent of all servers run on Intel processors.

However, an array of companies—not only AMD, but also ARM with its low-power architecture and IBM with its Power chips and OpenPower efforts—are looking to grab some of the market, positioning themselves in the industry as the best alternative to Intel. AMD is looking to compete against Intel with its upcoming "Zen" microarchitecture, systems powered by Zen-based "Naples" chips shipping in the second quarter 2017.

At the same time, AMD officials want to challenge GPU giant Nvidia with the company's Radeon processors. The company apparently is beginning to make inroads. Jon Peddie Research analysts said in a recent report that AMD saw a bump in its market-share competition against Nvidia and Intel. AMD's worldwide market share in the second quarter grew 2.8 percent from the same period last year, to 13.5 percent. Both Nvidia and Intel showed slight declines, though Nvidia still holds a commanding lead with a 72.6 percent market share. In addition, AMD saw a 4.03 percent bump in sales of discrete desktop GPUs over the first quarter, according to the analysts.

Alibaba is looking to grow its cloud business to help it compete with the likes of Amazon Web Services and Microsoft's Azure cloud business.