Bob Swan will step down as CEO of Intel next month after two years at the helm of the US processor giant. Pat Gelsinger, the current boss of VMWare, returns to Intel to succeed him. And it is the return of the king. Pat Gelsinger is an engineer by training and spent thirty years of his career with the company (he was an architect in particular of 80486) before leaving in September 2009. He was a noted and much appreciated CTO before his departure.
A star engineer back at the helm of Intel
Its return is therefore seen by the entire industry as a strong signal that the company is moving in the right direction. Intel has in fact suffered for nearly 10 years now from problems related to the design, but especially to the manufacture of its new generations of processors. For several decades, it was able to dominate the industry thanks to the superiority of its manufacturing processes over the competition, but the latter crumbled under the reigns of Paul Otellini and Brian Krzanich from the end of the years. 2000.
If Intel’s financial results remain excellent, its loss of ground to TSMC or even Samsung could end up costing it dearly, especially as the competition is eyeing its juiciest business: data centers. Intel took three years longer than expected to switch from 14nm to 10nm, and still hasn’t really gotten out of it. The transition to the next step, the 7 nm, has also already been delayed, although the company reports “great progress” in this area.
Difficult strategic choices
Pat Gelsinger will have the difficult task of raising the bar in this area, but also of deciding whether Intel should immediately rely on external service providers like TSMC or Samsung to manufacture its chips in order to remain competitive. This choice is all the more difficult given that Intel has very important production needs, which no supplier can easily meet. It should be noted in passing that Bob Swan will have had a rather thankless role. He spent two years getting the business back on track, dealing with pre-existing issues, and stepping down before his efforts paid off.
The new CEO will also have to complete the execution of Intel’s XPU strategy, that is to say its diversification beyond the x86 CPUs that made his fortune. The company has a plethora of projects underway ranging from GPUs to FPGAs and other specialty chips for artificial intelligence, to name a few. A necessary offensive in front of the strengthening of its competitors.
The competition will be fierce in the coming decade
Nvidia, historical designer of graphics processors, has experienced immeasurable growth in a decade thanks to its prescient positioning on calculations linked to artificial intelligence. His $ 40 billion Arm buyout, if successful, will make him the undisputed world leader in chip design. AMD, Intel’s only competitor for x86 processors, has experienced a resurgence in recent years that cannot be ignored either, especially as it has bought Xilinx, a specialist in FPGAs, to strengthen its position in data centers.
And Qualcomm, a major player in mobile chips, is today buying Nuvia, a start-up developing an ARM chip for data centers. The big cloud players, in particular Amazon and Google, are developing their own chips (also under ARM architecture), and those in the PC world are also taking a very close interest in this possible transition. Microsoft has not succeeded so far, but Apple is completely abandoning Intel in favor of its own chips, also under ARM architecture. Will Intel really be able to regain its leadership? Answer in five years.