Intel, Cisco, AMD Eye the Internet of Things

The vendors are aiming new silicon at a fast-growing part of the embedded chip market.

The Internet of Things is getting a lot of attention from such silicon makers as Intel, Advanced Micro Devices and Cisco Systems.

The vendors are looking to supply the chips that will help fuel a market that Cisco officials have said already has helped businesses reap more than $613 billion in profits this year alone, and could hit $14.4 trillion by 2020.

AMD officials on Sept. 9 unveiled the company’s embedded chip roadmap for 2014, including a 64-bit system-on-a-chip (SoC) codenamed Hierofalcon that will be developed in conjunction with ARM. Chips for embedded systems are a key growth area for AMD, and one of the major trends fueling the need for embedded silicon is the Internet of Things—or what AMD calls Surround Computing—the idea that intelligence is being put into a growing range of connected appliances, cars, manufacturing systems, personal devices, wearable computers and other items, and that all these connected systems and appliances are being connected to the Internet and each other and are generating tremendous amounts of data that needs to be stored and analyzed.

The next day at the Intel Developer Forum, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich announced that the company was developing a new family of chips called Quark, which will be one-fifth the size of Intel’s low-power Atom SoCs and consume one-tenth of the power. The Quark SoCs initially are being aimed at such embedded segments as the industrial Internet of Things and wearable computing devices.

Cisco followed that up two days later with the launch of the nPower X1, a network processor that has more than 4 billion transistors, can offer multi-terabit levels of performance and handle trillions of transactions, and is aimed at the Internet of Things—or what Cisco calls the Internet of Everything.

“The Internet of Everything will require extremely advanced silicon,” Nikhil Jayaram, vice president of engineering for Cisco’s service provider business, said in a post on the company blog announcing the nPower X1 chip. “With over 4 billion transistors, this highly integrated 400G bps throughput single-chip will enable Terabit-class solutions. It has sophisticated programmable control using open APIs and advanced compute operations that makes it ideal for software-defined networks while handling extremely high event rates. It will help simplify network operations and allow new business models while it enables our customers to both support rapid bandwidth growth and transform the Internet.”

According to a report released by Cisco earlier this year, there were 2.3 billion Internet users and 12 billion network connections—fixed and mobile devices, as well as machine-to-machine (M2M) connections—in 2012. Those numbers will grow to 3.6 billion users and more than 19 billion network connections by 2017.

In a slide during their presentation, they announced Hierofalcon and other future embedded chips, AMD officials noted that the Internet of Things and Surround Computing, along with “next-generation embedded systems,” will help fuel the next growth in the computing industry. On the chart, AMD officials noted that among the fastest-growing segments in the embedded chip space are traditional embedded systems and intelligent systems.