Talking System Architecture With AMD CTO Mark Papermaster

It is funny to think that in a certain light, AMD has Big Blue to thank for its resurgence in the datacenter. And not because IBM is not good at crafting processors and interconnects, but because some of the seasoned executives who honed their skills in semiconductors at IBM ended up being in control of AMD’s destiny and they, in turn, build teams that delivered on promises unlike prior AMD executives.

It all started with Rory Read, a former IBM executive with a broad background who became AMD’s president and chief executive officer back in August 2011, just about when the Opteron business was at its bleakest and all hopes in the datacenter seemed lost. But then, in December 2011, Read hired Lisa Su, who had spent many years at IBM. Su got her start at Texas Instruments, and was tapped by IBM to head up its semiconductor research and development center, and was the driving force behind the copper wiring added to chips to allow them to run faster with lower energy and which helped transform IBM Microelectronics and put decent Power4 processors into the field. Su was also in charge of the IBM team that came up with the PowerPC Cell processor, which combined Power cores and integrated vector engines for graphics, which were deployed in various forms in Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft game consoles.

But a few months before that, in October 2011, Read hired mark Papermaster to come to work for AMD as its chief technology officer. Papermaster was at IBM for 26 years, spearheading the development of many generations of System z and Power processors used in Big Blue’s enterprise-class and HPC systems, and then went on to work at Apple helping it design processors for iPods and iPhones.

The combination of Su and Papermaster was so powerful that Read was eventually let go. Su took his president and CEO titles, and AMD righted itself and is now a credible maker of CPUs and GPUs for clients and servers once again.

We sat down to talk to Papermaster ahead of a panel…

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