Advanced Micro Devices Inc. is focused. Focused on the future. And that future is a 64-bit world in which everything from portable PCs to servers to networking gear is powered by AMD Opteron or Athlon processors. To do it, the Sunnyvale, Calif., semiconductor manufacturer has been steadfastly signing up OEMs to build Opteron servers—the latest toll for which is more than 50 worldwide. With its major release of the 64-bit client processor, the Athlon 64, set for next week, there seems to be no slowing down AMD or CEO Hector de Ruiz, whos been on a tear across the country getting the word out about the chips high performance, 32-bit backward compatibility and low cost. eWEEK Executive Editor/News, Michael R. Zimmerman, caught up with de Ruiz in New York earlier this week at TechXNY to talk about life since April and the launch of the Opteron and the future.
eWEEK: Has the Opteron message—the 64-bit computing with 32-bit backward compatibility—been embraced by users as well as you could have expected?
RUIZ: Yeah…we divide the industry into three parts: the enterprise users, the people who are actually going to use the technology; the OEM, the people who make the boxes; and the software and hardware infrastructure that supports all that, I have to say we are doing better than we thought. I think that the enterprise has really embraced the whole concept, theyre very excited about the product. IBMs been a big help, of course, signing on to start building some products. And I think that has attracted a lot of interest. But I find it also kind of fascinating, this is really an industry change, its not just a new product for another two quarters. But its a 10-years—I dont know how long 64-bit is going to be around, but youre talking about a decade-plus of innovation. But Ive noticed more recently, that a lot of new companies, the Ciscos of the future, theyre all embracing Opteron technology. Ive been amazed at the number of startups that have contacted me in the last 90 days whove said, “I dont know if you knew this, but we are committed to your technology.” So these are people, who, some of them, a portion of them are going to be introducing technology that will be very powerful. So in addition to the IBMs, we have these people who are really embracing it.
eWEEK: Athlon 64 is due next week. What can you tell us about what to expect?
RUIZ: The client side of the system is important. And we believe that the migration of 64-bit on the client side is going to grow faster than people think. And of course, having the infrastructure enabled backbones in companies will allow that to happen even faster. So were very optimistic on the client side.
eWEEK: What hardware makers will be on stage when you roll it out next week?
RUIZ: We have a global launch. Were doing it at the same time in Japan, Europe, China and the U.S. But were not talking about partners yet. But I think youll be happy to see whos participating.
eWEEK: What surprises have you encountered since you launched Opteron last April? Not technically speaking.
RUIZ: Maybe a lot of surprise, with, it exceeded our expectation in the sense that the more people that looked at Opteron since April, the more people keep saying, “Wow, this is better than I thought.”
eWEEK: What does Sun Microsystems Inc.s announcement to support Opteron with Java mean for AMD, for Opteron?
RUIZ: Well it opens a broad base of support across a broad array of OEMs, not just the traditional server houses with people like Sun for example. And I expect thats going to grow.
eWEEK: Because of the Java support.
RUIZ: Not only that, but the opportunity for Opteron to perform well in a broad range of applications from high-performance computing to server to the high-level enterprises is pretty broad. So we expect to see that number of people grow.
eWEEK: Microsoft has plans to support Opteron in Windows Server 2003. Where does the work stand?
RUIZ: The Microsoft support has been outstanding. Microsoft has just been totally committed to helping this technology become a reality sooner rather than later. As a matter of fact a lot of their products they envisioned for their hardware side both for Opteron and Athlon 64 theyve been looking at how to move them up and accelerate them.
eWEEK: Where does AMD come out on wireless and mobile?
RUIZ: Let me put it in perspective, because otherwise wed be talking about apples and oranges here. Centrino is not a chip. Centrino is a marketing program to get people to sign up for Intel to provide the whole system. Its a, I would call it an average CPU. It has nothing that I would call redeeming features on the CPU. Its got a chip set made by some folks, and its got some wireless technology made by other folks. And I think that what theyve done together, which is by the way—Good job!…They put together this marketing program for Centrino thats pretty strong.
eWEEK: So as far as AMD building a package, a la, Centrino…
RUIZ: Not in the near term. We dont have plans in the near term.
eWEEK: Do you have customers asking for the technology?
RUIZ: You know, strangely enough, we dont have customers asking for it. Which says that they really like the money Intel is spending on it. Which is, you know, part of the game…Well were doing reasonably well in the mobile side. I expect the last six months of this year are going to be very strong for us.
eWEEK: You have Athlon 64 coming up for desktops and laptops, National Semiconductor business for thin clients and displays, and the Alchemy embedded processor for PDAs, does that sum up the mobile effort right now.
RUIZ: Yes, except we will have an Athlon 64 Mobile.
eWEEK: And that will be part of next weeks announcement?
RUIZ: Well talk about the mobile next week.
eWEEK: Bruce Claflin is new to AMDs board of directors. Have you had much interaction with him? Whats his influence been on the board so far?
RUIZ: Well, Bruce is an active CEO. Its very hard nowadays to get active CEOs on boards. So were very happy to have somebody who actually has a job. And as a result of that, I spent quite a bit of time with Bruce before he joined the board, convincing him to join the board. He already attended one board meeting, so he already has one board meeting under his belt. But, Ive got to tell you, the reason I wanted him on the board is hes very experienced. He came from an IBM/DEC environment. He faces a lot of the challenges that we do. 3Coms got to battle the giants, like Cisco and others…So I think hes going to be a great addition.
eWEEK: Did you know him from past experiences?
RUIZ: No. Jerry Sanders knew him and suggested that we consider him so I talked with him. We dialogued quite a bit, and finally we convinced him to join the board.
eWEEK: Going forward will you consult with him or will it be more in the confines of the board meetings.
RUIZ: No. Since hes very new. He just joined in the last 60 days. Hes one of those people who I plan to spend a lot of time with.
RUIZ: You asked me about any surprises and I told you a very positive one. The other one that was somewhat surprising to me on the negative side was the level of intimidation that our competitors have gone through trying to keep customers from really engaging with us.
eWEEK: This is after the launch.
eWEEK: Youve been pretty open and honest about the response to your products from the competition. Hows it been since April?
RUIZ: More brutally executed. I really think this is such a great product. Its a great transition for the industry. One of the reasons we participate in conferences like this is to try and get people to vote with their feet and their money and not be intimidated.