AMD is mid way through the corporate transformation unlike any it has seen before. The company has remade itself through a nearly complete remake of upper management and by extended its product lines beyond PCs and traditional servers.
I have seen AMD from many different viewpoints: as customer, as employee, as competitor, and from the view as an analyst. You could say I have had a full 360° view of the company. But AMD has evolved and changed over the years – sometimes for the worse, and sometimes for the better – but it has rarely been boring. I must admit that I do have a soft spot for AMD for the 10 1/2 years I was an employee, where it offered an incredible opportunity to learn and where I met my present wife (who is also an AMD alumni). But that is not to say I have ignored the flaws in AMD. There have been nearly fatal mistakes and an obsession of the company’s previous executive staff with Intel. This latest incarnation of AMD could be called AMD version 4.0 and may well be the best version of AMD since the beginning.
This new AMD is led by CEO Rory Read who has transformed the company’s leadership starting at the very top with the addition of Lisa Su as Senior Vice President and General Manager of Global Business Units, and Mark Papermaster as Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer – two executives key to the reinvent of the company. AMD ‘s Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, Colette LaForce, has even recast AMD’s corporate colors and logos. Chekib Akrout, Senior Vice President and Business Transformation Officer, has a background at IBM and Freescale before joining AMD to help drive business alignment. In addition, over the last year more new hires have been added to all levels of AMD leadership. The company has brought back two outstanding engineering leaders, Raja Koduri and Jim Keller, to driving the GPU and CPU (respectively) product roadmaps. I have met these AMD leaders and each is doing an outstanding job.
The new AMD is focused less on beating Intel, and more on finding new markets for its leading-edge IP. The company is not religious on instruction set architecture, it has adopted the ARM architecture as an alternative to the x86 architecture – which AMD calls its ambidextrous strategy. AMD successfully built semicustom designs utilizing its IP portfolio of products for both Sony and Microsoft game consoles. The new AMD is (re)looking at markets such as embedded for new opportunities. But while it was an active player in the embedded market in the 1980s and 90s, the new AMD brings a wider range of IP to this market, including 3rd party IP like the ARM CPU cores.
The new AMD is focused not just on surviving, but growing and becoming consistently profitable. To this end, it is focused on opportunities that have consistent margins and shipments, such as the semicustom business, professional graphics, and embedded. AMD also has the opportunity to be the lead vendor for the ARM architecture in dense servers with the forthcoming Seattle processor.
AMD has not forgotten its legacy business in PCs – the company recently announced a series of new desktop processors and sockets that offer a balance of cost, performance, and power in a small system footprint. The new APUs leverage the retro appeal of the Athlon and Sempron names, but offer modern DirectX 11.2 graphics, USB 3.0 I/O, 6Gbps SATA, and the Video Codec Engine (VCE) for fast encoding. The company also launched the ridiculously fast and powerful AMD Radeon R9 295 X2 graphics card, which it heralds as the world’s fastest graphics card with 8GB of memory and more than 11.5 teraflops of compute in a single liquid-cooled graphics card.
We also saw a demonstration of the Seattle processor (Opteron A1100 Series), which appears to be right on target and schedule. Seattle is a touchstone product of the new AMD – it uses 64-bit ARM cores and leverages the company’s deep experience in server processors.
The Tirias Take
We came away from the industry analyst meeting with a new respect for the leadership team that Rory Read has put together. While Rory may not have the bigger-than-life personality of a Jerry Sanders III, he has put together seasoned management team and taken a rational approach to the business, unlike past management. The product and market diversification plan has taken the old obsession with Intel off the plate. That is not to say that Intel has disappeared as a competitive threat, but rather, the new AMD will not be defined by the competition with Intel and is now able to create its own markets.
It is the healthiest the company has been in a long time. Of course the company is still not out of the woods – there’s two more years of execution ahead of it before it will have completed its transformation. The progress to this point in time is very promising and the roadmap looks exciting and will take the company into new waters.