Google expands cloud chip design efforts with veteran Intel hire

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Google is expanding efforts to design its own chips with the hiring of Uri Frank, an Intel veteran with over two decades of experience in custom CPU design, the company has announced. Frank will head up a new Isreal-based team for Google, and will serve as the company’s VP of Engineering for server chip design. “I look forward to growing a team here in Israel while accelerating Google Cloud’s innovations in compute infrastructure,” Frank wrote in a LinkedIn post announcing the move.

As Google and other tech giants have sought more performance and power efficiency, they’ve increasingly turned towards custom chip designs tailored towards specific use cases. Google has already introduced several custom chips including its Tensor Processing Unit (to help with tasks like voice search and photo object recognition), Video Processing Units, and OpenTitan, an open-source security-focused chip.

On the consumer side, Google already designs custom chips like the Titan M and Pixel Neural Core for its phones. There have also been reports that Google is designing processors that could eventually power its Pixel phones and Chromebooks.

Despite the hire, Google cautions that it’s not planning on building every server chip itself. “We buy where it makes sense, build it ourselves where we have to, and aim to build ecosystems that benefit the entire industry,” the company explains. But the big change will be trying to integrate these different pieces of hardware on a single system on chip (SoC), rather than via a motherboard where they’re separated by “inches of wires” that introduce latency and reduce bandwidth. “The SoC is the new motherboard,” Google says.

Other tech giants have similar custom chip ambitions. Amazon has its ARM-based Graviton server chips while Facebook has announced data center chip designs of its own. Microsoft is also thought to be working on designing its own server chips, as well as processors for its lineup of Surface PCs. Apple has several chip designs to its credit, and is currently in the process of transitioning its Mac lineup from Intel to its own ARM-based processors.

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