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AMD buys Pensando for $1.9bn –- adds to programmable chip and DPU expertise

AMD is buying Pensando, a networking specialist, for $1.9 billion, as the chipmaker aims to increase its reach into the data centre, the firms announced today. The acquisition, expected to close in H2, will give AMD the "capability to innovate at the chip, software and platform level" it said Monday.

Pensando’s programmable packet processor and distributed services platform is used by hyperscalers such as Microsoft Azure, IBM Cloud and Oracle Cloud, along with Aruba Networks and Goldman Sachs.

Pensando's software-defined platform, accessible by API, aims to eliminate legacy networking hardware like fibre TAP modules, optic tranceivers and even traditional firewall appliances. In essence, it provides SmartNIC-like accelerators that peel networking workloads away from CPUs with a software platform that orchestrates those workloads through a "single pane of glass" that gives security, network and telemetry detail.

(It calls the former a Distributed Services Card (DSC): a PCIe adapter that provides services and network I/O for the host: The DSC provides services that would otherwise be implemented either in software on the host CPU, or in appliances within the network. These are tied together by GUI or RESTful API).

Pensando provides Distributed Services Card (DSCs) programmable per the above.

AMD is buying Pensando less than two months after it finally closed the mammoth purchase of Xilinx. Xilinx’s expertise in FGPAs is seen as a significant boost to AMD’s chip design capabilities, as the limitations of physics forces chip designers to become more creative when looking for performance gains.

DPUs have become increasingly important within data centres, taking networking, security and other administrative functions away from CPUs. Pensando claims its fully-programmable SoC, which boasts 16 ARM cores and a P4 MPU, offers eight to 13 times the performance of Amazon’s Nitro system, which underpins its EC2 product.

See also: NVIDIA CEO: “Half the CPU cores in DCs are not running apps. That’s strange…”

“In less than five years Pensando has assembled a best-in-class engineering team that are experts in building systems together with a rich, deep ecosystem of partners and customers who have currently deployed over 100,000 Pensando platforms into production,” said Pensando CEO Prem Jain in a press release.

“Joining together with AMD will help accelerate growth in our core business and enable us to pursue a much larger customer base across more markets.”

Pensando was founded in 2017 by four former Cisco employees, and counts ex-Cisco CEO John Chambers as its chairman. The firm currently has around 330 employees, all of whom will be moved into AMD’s Data Centre Solutions Group after AMD buys Pensando.

“Today, with our acquisition of Pensando, we add a leading distributed services platform to our high-performance CPU, GPU, FPGA and adaptive SoC portfolio,” said AMD CEO Lisa Su in a press release.

See also: AMD reports a storming quarter as hyperscalers launch 130+ AMD cloud instances

The announcement of AMD's purchase of Pensando included several statements from Pensando customers including Oracle Cloud, Goldman Sachs, HPE and Microsoft Azure, extolling the firm’s virtues.

“Pensando System’s full stack solution, complete with a P4 programmable processor and hyper scale software has enabled Microsoft Azure to rapidly augment its networking and security services improving performance, latency, and scale,” said Girish Bablani, corporate vice president at Microsoft Azure.

“We have seen a 40x improvement in overall cloud based connection related performance. Pensando delivered this in less than 12 months,” he added.