Intel acquires machine-learning start-up Nervana Systems for $408m

10 Aug 2016

Intel’s Diane Bryant with Nervana’s co-founders Naveen Rao, Arjun Bansal, Amir Khosrowshaki and Intel vice president Jason Waxman

In a big bet that machine learning will define the future of data centres, Intel is acquiring machine-learning start-up Nervana Systems for $408m.

Intel said that because of the pervasive reach of cloud computing, and the decreasing cost of computing thanks to Moore’s Law and billions of connected devices generating millions of terabytes of data every single day, AI will be critical to managing this data.

Nervana Intel

Future Human

Diane Bryant, executive vice president and general manager of Intel’s Data Centre Group said that AI is no longer science fiction in movies and novels.

“AI is all around us, from the commonplace (talk-to-text, photo tagging, fraud detection) to the cutting edge (precision medicine, injury prediction, autonomous cars).

Key methods of expansion

“Encompassing compute methods like advanced data analytics, computer vision, natural language processing and machine learning, artificial intelligence is transforming the way businesses operate and how people engage with the world.

“Machine learning, and its subset deep learning, are key methods for the expanding field of AI.”

Bryant said that Intel processors power more than 97pc of servers deployed to support machine learning workloads today.

“The Intel Xeon processor E5 family is the most widely-deployed processor for deep-learning inference and the recently launched Intel Xeon Phi processor delivers the scalable performance needed for deep-learning training.

“While less than 10pc of servers worldwide were deployed in support of machine learning last year, the capabilities and insights it enables makes machine learning the fastest-growing form of AI.”

Intel discovers the Shangri-La of AI?

She said that Intel has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Nervana Systems. According to various reports, Intel is paying up to $408m for the 48-person company, which started up in 2014.

“Nervana has a fully-optimised software and hardware stack for deep learning,” Bryant said. “Their IP and expertise in accelerating deep-learning algorithms will expand Intel’s capabilities in the field of AI.

“We will apply Nervana’s software expertise to further optimise the Intel Math Kernel Library and its integration into industry-standard frameworks. Nervana’s engine and silicon expertise will advance Intel’s AI portfolio and enhance the deep-learning performance and TCO of our Intel Xeon and Intel Xeon Phi processors,” Bryant added.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years