The reasons for AMD’s decision to purchase SeaMicro are coming into focus quickly. AMD’s John Fruehe has written a blog post explaining what AMD gets in this acquisition, and it’s worth reading. Most notably, Fruehe says the key technology involved is SeaMicro’s interconnect fabric:
The basis of the SeaMicro technology is the interconnect fabric. A custom ASIC allows multiple computers to be linked together via their PCI Express bus. This fabric allows a large number of servers, to be tied together in a fabric within a dense chassis, all sharing a high-performance connection to networking and I/O peripherals. Servers go from being a large box to a small card as they are aggregated into this environment.
Fruehe then makes it very clear how this technology ties into the "SoC approach" to chip design that AMD’s execs communicated at the firm’s Financial Analyst Day. SeaMicro’s fabric may be the glue that binds together future AMD chips:
At the most recent AMD Financial Analyst Day, Mark Papermaster and Lisa Su both spoke of the new AMD direction towards SOCs (system on a chip) that will allow us to take a wide range of IP and integrate it into purpose-built SOCs that meet particular computing needs. With SeaMicro we now have the fabric to pull all of these together as well. The SeaMicro IP that helps connect all of these computers together could one day be built directly into these SOCs, providing an easy way to tie systems together with the smallest silicon footprint possible. But not just AMD SOCs, the technology will be available for others as well.
More immediately, perhaps, AMD can begin offering high-density server solutions with much tighter integration at the system and rack level. Writes Fruehe: "Clearly, we are moving from a being merely a silicon provider to delivering systems-level integration and capability." That is, of course, the lion’s share of SeaMicro’s current business. However, AMD doesn’t plan to compete with its customers in any great measure, as Fruehe explains:
Does this mean that AMD is heading into the systems business? Not at all. We have partners like HP, Dell, IBM, Cray and a host of others that design and deliver systems better than anyone, so we’ll really leave that business to them. We’ll maintain the SeaMicro business and current customers to ensure that we continue to deliver the products that they need to run their business. But the long term the goal is to broaden the offering by also integrating the technology into platforms from our OEMs, creating a larger ecosystem of products for customers to choose from.
So it seems AMD’s current partners will get access to the SeaMicro fabric technology, potentially enabling them to create high-density server solutions, presumably based on AMD microprocessors. Meanwhile, AMD remains largely a technology firm, not a server vendor.