When it comes to technology conferences, particularly those put on by vendors, not all are created equal. Most are hardcore events in which attendees are treated to several days of educational information on how to work better with the vendor’s products. This represents a majority of shows. However, there are a few that have reached the status of an actual industrywide event; this is where the conference is still supporting a specific vendor, but the information tends to have broad industry relevance. Cisco Live in the networking space and AWS re:Invent in cloud are two good examples.
One show that has recently reached this status is Nvidia’s GPU Technology Conference (GTC). There are several GTC events held annually, with the next one coming up soon. Like all events now, this will be an all-digital event, held from Oct. 5-9, with new content being made available throughout that week.
GTC fills void left by Intel as the premier computing event
At one time, GTC was a targeted show dedicated to a handful of specific GPU use cases, such as gaming. But not so anymore. As the GPU grew in popularity, NVIDIA adjusted the show to reach broader audiences. Today, it is the preeminent computing show. At one time, Intel Developer Forum (IDF) was considered the top such show but Intel stopped hosting the event in 2017, leaving a gap in the industry. Even if Intel had continued with IDF, the show would have seen a decline in importance, because Intel has lost its position as the premier chip manufacturer to NVIDIA. A quick look at the company balance sheet tells this story: NVIDIA is now worth about 50% more than Intel.
GTC is more than just gaming
However, company valuation is certainly no reason one should attend an event. Here are the top reasons NVIDIA’s GTC has become a must-attend event:
- The meteoric rise of GPUs. The GPU is something that was once found only in high-end graphics cards. It turns out, the thing that makes GPUs good at graphics processing also makes them great at other computationally intensive tasks, such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, ray tracing and other recent innovations. GPUs are used in high-tech devices that include robots, self-driving cars and drones, but they’re also in many everyday items, such as home security systems, smart home devices and video endpoints. GPUs are as important to the world moving forward as CPUs were to the birth of the Internet era, and it’s critical that developers and IT pros understand their full capabilities. GPU evolution has been and will continue to be the main focal point for GTC.
- The server has become decoupled. A server used to be a self-contained box with memory, processors and storage being connected by a high-speed backplane. Today, the server has been decoupled with those components now being standalone entities. That means the network must take the place of that high-speed backplane which essentially turns the data center into one massive server. This new computing paradigm is why NVIDIA purchased Mellanox as it can deliver an end-to-end compute unit. I’m expecting this concept to be big at GTC this year.
- DPUs have come of age. Anyone considering attending GTC will be familiar with GPUs and CPUs, but NVIDA is now delivering something called a data-processing unit, or DPU. These were originally introduced by Mellanox but now carry the NVIDIA brand and are a new class of programmable processor that consists of flexible and programmable acceleration engines. DPUs can improve application performance for AI, security, machine learning, storage and other technologies. The DPUs are delivered as standalone processors but also as part of a SmartNIC, which can be installed in high-performance servers. Developers looking to maximize where code runs to create efficient apps should look for DPU sessions at GTC.
- NVIDIAs acquisition of ARM is game-changing. Recently, NVIDIA plunked down $42 billion to acquire ARM for its CPUs. While the future is enabled by GPUs, CPUs are still important for certain tasks. Arm’s primarily competitive advantage over Intel and AMD is that it doesn’t build the chips. Instead it turns over the blueprints to other companies, who can optimize the performance through software and hardware design. This results in lower power and space efficiency, which is why ARM has been so popular in mobile devices. Given that the acquisition is recent, I would not expect ARM to have a huge presence at GTC, but it’s worth attending to get a glimpse of what the future holds for the combination of Arm and NVIDIA.
- Lots of other cool technology. GTCs are always filled with new, innovative technologies. I would expect the upcoming GTC to feature things such as conversational AI, which will change business-customer interactions through the use of virtual agents, health-care innovation, state-of-the-art graphics–including ray tracing–and always a healthy dose of autonomous machines.
The virtual event will be filled with live webinars, workshops, recorded sessions and demos. There will also be a number of networking opportunities for attendees to meet with others who share their interest in all things NVIDIA; this will include an interesting “Dinner with Strangers.” I consider GTC to now be more of an industry show, and I’ll be attending. Look me up if you want to discuss any of the above topics!
Zeus Kerravala is an eWEEK regular contributor and the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. He spent 10 years at Yankee Group and prior to that held a number of corporate IT positions.