Intel buys Habana for AI but what happens to Nervana chips?

Intel bought Habana Labs in Israel for $2 billion to speed up AI silicon work and will retain chairman Avigdor Willenz as a senior advisor. What happens to Intel's Nervana AI chips is an open question. (Intel)

Intel announced Monday it has acquired Habana Labs of Israel for $2 billion. The company develops programmable deep learning accelerators for data centers.

In making the purchase, Intel said it wants to strengthen its artificial intelligence prowess and speed up its work in silicon for AI.

Intel estimates the market for AI silicon to exceed $25 billion by 2024 of which $10 billion will be for AI silicon in the data center. Intel said it expects to generate $3.5 billion in AI-driven revenue in all of 2019, an increase of 20% over 2018.

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News of the purchase surfaced in early December. At the time, there were some industry concerns that Habana’s technology would compete with Intel’s existing Nervana chips, perhaps even sidelining Nervana. Intel bought Nervana in 2016 for about $400,000, the same year that Intel also bought Movidius, another AI chip startup.

RELATED: Intel may buy another AI chip developer, Habana Labs

FierceElectronics asked Intel about its plans for integrating Habana with Nervana and was told on Monday that Intel plans to evaluate the matter.

“We’ll take time to assess this combination [of Habana and Nervana] with input from our customers,” an Intel spokesperson said via email. “We plan to take full advantage of our combined IP and expertise to deliver unmatched computing performance and efficiency for AI workloads in the data center.”

In June, Habana launched the Gaudi AI Training processor, claiming four times the throughput of systems built with the same number of CPUs. Gaudi is currently being sampled by some hyperscale customers.

The company also has a Goya AI Inference Processor that is commercially available. Intel noted that the combination of Gaudi and Goya can help customers with programming ease.

“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,” said Navin Shenoy, general manager of data platforms at Intel, in a statement. Combining Intel with Habana, will provide “unmatched computing performance…in the data center.”

Habana was founded in 2016 and employs about 150 people with offices in four locations around the globe. Intel Capital had previously helped finance the company in the production of next generation 7nm AI processors.

Habana Labs Chairman Avigdor Willenz will serve as a senior advisor to Intel and the Habana business unit, Intel said in a statement.

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