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Intel's Steve Long on industry challenges and re-invigorating the magic of silicon

By Zachary Chan - 12 Apr 2022

Steve Long Interview

From multiple production delays to being overshadowed by both AMD and Apple - one a long-standing rival, while the other an upstart in the CPU space - you can say that the past few years haven't been great for Intel from a consumer standpoint. However, one can say they've rebounded in 2021, and are currently trending positively as a chipmaker and innovator. Intel's 12th Gen processors have been very positively reviewed by us on both the desktop and mobile fronts, their dedicated Arc GPU has finally arrived, and there's even a dedicated crypto chip in the making, among others.

We had a chat with Steve Long, Corporate Vice President and General Manager, Intel Asia Pacific and Japan, to find out what's driving Intel's renewed focus, the company's investments and plans for the Asia Pacific region, as well as his thoughts on the current woes of the semiconductor industry - i.e. the chip shortage.

 

At last year's Intel InnovatiON event, CEO Pat Gelsinger realigned Intel back towards a developer-first approach. How has Intel diverged from this direction in the past? 

In recent years, we have been focused on producing leading innovations in hardware but admittedly, we have not done as good a good job in staying connected with the developer community – and that’s where we have committed to do better at.  

There is a great amount of software innovations and resources at Intel that we have available to the developer community.  

At the heart of Intel software is our broad set of world-class tools, frameworks and libraries, such as oneAPI and our compilers to platform solutions like Intel Bridge Technology - which allows native Android apps to run on Windows 11 systems. Additionally, many in the industry don’t know that we have over 19,000 technical staff working on software alone.  

Developers today are also looking for open alternatives, and Intel is delivering a competitive choice. To make Intel the silicon platform of choice, our “software-first’ strategy will be focused on helping foster a strong open ecosystem enabling choice and trust.  

At Intel we believe that a successful software strategy depends on a broad and deep portfolio of investments that puts the needs of developers first. So last year, we brought back the spirit of Intel Developer Forum in the form of Intel InnovatiON, as part of our recommitment to developers. 

 

In your opinion, how will this change Intel's focus, its outlook on the market, and the competition? 

Our focus remains the same as when we first laid out our IDM 2.0 strategy almost 12 months ago, and that was (and still is) to be the leader in every category we compete in, execute flawlessly to our commitments, passionately innovate with boldness and speed and reignite our culture to attract and motivate the best engineers and technologists on the planet.  
 
Throughout the past year, we’ve started delivering on our promises to build a more globally diverse and resilient supply chain through our world-changing manufacturing strategy, as well as investing in semiconductor production across the world. Semiconductors are the backbone of the global economy, and as a market that is powering almost every industry’s transformation, is predicted to double to US$1 trillion by 2030.   

We’re also returning to our developer roots, with a renewed commitment to the community and a developer-first approach across software and hardware. We have refocused on empowering an open ecosystem to drive innovation, ensuring choice for developers to use the tools and environments they prefer and building trust and partnerships across cloud service providers, open-source communities, start-ups and others. 

All-in-all, we’re committed to this ongoing transformation at Intel, and look forward to solidifying Intel’s position as a driver of the next digital renaissance.

 

Speaking of the supply chain, what are the trickle down effects of the current chip shortage to the everyday consumer? 

2021 had two major themes: unprecedented demand, and ecosystem supply constraints. We continued to see robust demand across all our businesses due to the digitization of everything, driven by the four superpowers of AI, pervasive connectivity, ubiquitous compute, and cloud-to-edge infrastructure. 

However, demand continues to be tempered by supply chain constraints as shortages in substrates, components, and foundry silicon have limited our customers’ ability to ship finished systems to consumers. 

Even as we are working to ensure sufficient semiconductor wafer capacity to meet projected demand, we are anticipating supply challenges to continue through 2023, with incremental improvements over this period. 

But while constraints will remain, our IDM2.0 strategy affords us a superior position to navigate this environment. With control over our manufacturing network and supply chain, we are able to react to rapid changes in demand and help solve challenges for our suppliers and partners. Equally important, as an IDM, we remain more resilient to dramatic foundry price increases, as only a portion of our volume is produced by third party foundries.

 

Is there a correlation between the ability to develop and deliver new innovation in such a challenging environment? 

At Intel, our goal is to be the unquestioned leader in every category we compete. To get there, we have laid out an aggressive technology roadmap of five nodes in the next four years and we are innovating at the fastest pace that anyone has ever accomplished. The good news is that we are on- or ahead of- schedule for all of them. And the amazing thing is that we have achieved this despite geographically spread-out teams, working in different countries with different Covid situations. Our first priority during the pandemic has been to keep our employees safe but also at the same time use innovative ways to hit our product milestones. Our latest 12th Gen Core desktop processors are a great example of innovation during the pandemic. These 12th Gen Core processors are outperforming the competition and we intend to maintain that lead through our torrid pace of innovation, whether in process, packaging, or architecture. 

At Intel, innovation has long been synonymous with Moore’s Law and despite many critics’ predicting that “Moore’s law is dead”, we have showed that Moore’s Law is far from dead through our innovations across process, packaging and architecture and we will continue to the steward of Moore’s Law for the next decade and beyond.

Pat said it best, we won’t be done until we’ve exhausted the periodic table, and that we as the stewards of Moore’s Law will be relentless in innovating with the magic of silicon. 

 

Your views on global events and the compounded effects on industry uncertainty. How concerned is Intel, and how will APAC as a region play into the big picture? 

Intel has assessed the possible impact of the Russia-Ukraine conflict on its supply chain. Intel's strategy of having a diverse, global supply chain minimizes its risk from potential local interruptions. We continue to monitor the situation carefully. As a company, we’re focused on ensuring business continuity and minimizing disruptions for our employees and customers.

As we’ve all experienced in the midst of this global pandemic, semiconductors are essential to every industry and fundamental to allowing us to continue to work, connect with family and friends and learn remotely.  We've seen unprecedented demand for semiconductors, both in Asia and across the world. The chip shortage is a global challenge and one we expect to continue into 2023.   

Intel along with others in the semiconductor industry are ramping up and expanding production rapidly to meet demand.  We need a more diversified, resilient, and geographically balanced supply chain to ensure reliable access to advanced semiconductors for years to come.

To help boost production on a global scale, we recently announced significant investments in manufacturing in the US and Europe, but we also continue to invest in Asia. We invested US$475 million in Vietnam in 2021 and earlier this year, announced a US$7B investment to grow our advanced packaging facilities in Malaysia. Asia is a growing centre of global innovation, talent, and technology demand, and we're proud of our commitments in the region.

 

What are your immediate objectives to achieve in your current role? How would you lead Intel's transformation strategies in this region? 

The APJ (Asia Pacific and Japan) region is going to be the next growth engine for Intel from an innovation and technology consumption standpoint.  

Our number one job is to listen to our customers and respond positively to collaborate with them in solving our societies’ biggest challenges, thereby enriching the lives of every person on the planet. To realize this vision, the major shift you are going to see is in our mindset. We are going to be operating like a startup where you exist to solve a business need and move fast.  

APJ is a diverse region and presents unique opportunities for our growth. For example, some growth opportunities we see is in 5G and gaming in most markets in APJ, smart manufacturing in Malaysia, road safety in India, and accelerating the vibrant tech ecosystem in Taiwan. We also want to take advantage of the huge software developer presence in APJ to co-engineer, design, build, and validate new products to accelerate mutual technology advancements and help new software and hardware work better together. 

Intel has close to 30K employees in the APJ region, most of them in engineering. We have a huge opportunity to tap into our deep engineering expertise here to look at how we can develop innovative solutions that solve unique customer problems in the region, as well as beyond APJ.

 

If you're allowed to be candid, how do you think Intel has "dropped the ball", and in which sector will a comeback most likely happen? 

I would go back to software and developers – which we have already committed to – and are already addressing. 

But more importantly, with Pat Gelsinger as our new CEO for about a year now, I think I speak for everyone at Intel when I say that we are more confident than ever that Intel can be the world’s leading semiconductor company again, and at the same time, pave the way for a new era of innovation and technology leadership. Whether investing in diversifying the global chip supply chain, expanding the use of external foundries and the introduction of Intel Foundry Services in driving a collaborative approach to semiconductor manufacturing, or by expanding on our open collaboration efforts with developers through a software-first approach, we’re all in on rebuilding a “Groveian” execution engine and reenergizing Intel’s culture to attract the best and brightest to Intel to help unlock future potential. 

We are leveraging our core strengths to grow traditional markets and disrupt new ones. 2021 was the best year we’ve seen in the past decade for the PC industry, with a 15% growth rate driven by higher PC density, shorter replacement cycles, and increased market penetration. Our data centre business continues to be strong across all geographies, particularly in the last quarter as the market recovers from the pandemic.  

We are confident that we will continue this momentum with our growth markets, strong product road map, and increasingly solid execution. 

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