Intel acquires Habana Labs for $2bn to strengthen push into AI

17 Dec 20194.26k Views

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Intel has acquired Israeli deep-learning business Habana Labs in a $2bn deal, with the aim of advancing its AI strategy.

On Monday (16 December), Intel Corporation announced that it has acquired Habana Labs in a deal worth around $2bn. Based in Israel, Habana Labs develops programmable deep-learning accelerators designed for use in data centres.

In a statement, Intel said that the acquisition was made in a bid to strengthen the company’s artificial intelligence portfolio and accelerate the its efforts in the nascent, fast-growing AI silicon market, which Intel expects to be worth more than $25bn by 2024.

Navin Shenoy, executive vice-president and general manager of the Data Platforms Group at Intel, said: “This acquisition advances our AI strategy, which is to provide customers with solutions to fit every performance need – from the intelligent edge to the data centre.

“More specifically, Habana turbo-charges our AI offerings for the data centre with a high-performance training processor family and a standards-based programming environment to address evolving AI workloads.”

AI growth

Intel said that its AI strategy is grounded in the belief that harnessing the power of AI to improve business outcomes requires a broad mix of technology – hardware and software – and full ecosystem support.

By the end of 2019, Intel hopes to have generated more than $3.5bn in AI-driven revenue, up more than 20pc year on year.

Shenoy said: “We know that customers are looking for ease of programmability with purpose-built AI solutions, as well as superior, scalable performance on a wide variety of workloads and neural network topologies. That’s why we’re thrilled to have an AI team of Habana’s calibre with a proven track record of execution joining Intel.”

He added that Intel and Habana’s combined intellectual property and expertise has the potential to deliver “unmatched computing performance” and efficiency for AI workloads in the data centre.

What will happen to Habana?

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Habana is to remain an independent business unit and will continue to be led by its current management team. The company will now report to Intel’s Data Platforms group, which is home to Intel’s portfolio of data-centre-class AI technologies.

The deal will give Habana access to Intel AI capabilities, including significant resources built over the last three years with deep expertise in AI software, algorithms and research, with the aim of scaling and accelerating Habana’s business.

Chair of Habana, Avigdor Willenz, will serve as a senior adviser to the business unit as well as to Intel. The business will continue to be based in Israel, where Intel also has a significant presence. Before the acquisition, Intel Capital had been an investor in Habana.

David Dahan, CEO of Habana, said: “We have been fortunate to get to know and collaborate with Intel given its investment in Habana, and we’re thrilled to be officially joining the team. Intel has created a world-class AI team and capability.

“We are excited to partner with Intel to accelerate and scale our business. Together, we will deliver our customers more AI innovation, faster.”

AI investment

In recent years, Intel has made some major investments in AI. In 2016, Intel purchased deep-learning start-up Nervana Systems for around $400m. The same year, Intel also acquired Dublin-based AI chip start-up Movidius for an undisclosed sum.

At the time, Intel said that the deal with Movidius would be used to position the chip-making giant to provide computer vision and deep-learning solutions from the device to the cloud.

It’s not clear how the deal with Habana will impact Movidius, but an Intel spokesperson told FierceElectronics that the company will take time to assess the combination of AI businesses it has acquired.

As for the fate of Nervana, Forbes contributor Karl Freund wrote: “It is hard to imagine a scenario where the Nervana chips would play a significant role going forward, but Intel will understandably take a few months to explore its options.”

Kelly Earley is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

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