Amazon’s New Chip Moves AWS Into High-Performance Computing

(Bloomberg) -- Inc.’s cloud-computing unit is rolling out new chips designed to power the highest-end of computing, supporting tasks such as weather forecasting and gene sequencing.

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Amazon Web Services, the largest provider of over-the-internet computing, on Monday said it would let customers rent computing power that relies on a new version of its Graviton chips. Peter DeSantis, a senior vice president who oversees most of AWS’s engineering teams, said in an interview that the product is a springboard for making what the industry calls high-performance computing more readily available.

The newest chip is the latest piece of Amazon’s effort to build more of the hardware that fills the massive data centers that power AWS. Amazon says making its own chips will give customers more cost-effective computing power than they could get by renting time on processors built by the likes of Intel Corp., Nvidia Corp. or Advanced Micro Devices Inc. The move has put AWS in direct competition with those companies, which are also among its biggest suppliers. DeSantis said the chipmakers remain “great partners,” and that AWS plans to continue to offer high-performance computing services based on chips made by other companies.

AWS acquired chipmaker Annapurna Labs in 2015 to jumpstart its homegrown chip designs, which at first were focused on simpler computing tasks, such as providing the backbone for websites. The high-performance computing push announced at the kickoff of the AWS re:Invent trade show on Monday is an effort to demonstrate that Amazon’s in-house technology can compete head-to-head with chips from industry leaders.

On Tuesday, AWS Chief Executive Officer Adam Selipsky announced a new version of the Inferentia chip, which is designed to draw inferences from vast amounts of data. Inferentia2 is built to handle bigger sets of data than its predecessor, enabling things like software-generated images or detecting and interpreting human speech, Amazon said.

Computers that predict weather patterns and model race car aerodynamics are among the most powerful systems run by state-of-the-art semiconductors. Those components have typically been provided by Intel, Nvidia and AMD in expensive computer systems that companies, government departments and academic institutions have built in their own data centers.

The latest version of AWS’s line of Graviton processors, the Graviton3E, will have twice the ability of current versions in one type of calculations needed by high-performance computers, DeSantis said. When combined with other AWS technology, the new offering will be 20% better than the previous one. Amazon didn't say when services based on the new chip would be available.

“The reason that high-performance computing isn’t big is it’s hard,” DeSantis said. “It’s hard to get capacity, it’s hard to get time on that supercomputer. What we’re excited about is bringing the capabilities of high-performance computing to more workloads.”

(Updated with second chip announcement.)

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