Intel’s Sandra Rivera Talks About Ambitions for its 14,000 Employees in India, the Datacentre Market, and Future Investments

According to Intel, approximately 14,000 full-time staff and thousands more contract workers are based out of its Bengaluru campus, working on everything from CPU and GPU design to developing all kinds of software. This is Intel’s largest R&D centre outside the USA, and people here collaborate with teams in multiple other countries. Of these, 3,000 people are dedicated to the company’s Data Centre and AI Group, which is responsible for the Xeon CPU line, dedicated high-performance GPUs, custom silicon called FPGAs (Field-Programmable Gate Arrays), and all the interconnects and supporting hardware and software that make them work. You might not see these products in the usual hardware shops, but they go into many of the servers that power today’s major websites and online services as well as supercomputers such as the recently completed Aurora.

Gadgets 360 got the chance to participate in a conversation with Sandra Rivera, Intel Executive Vice President and General Manager, Data Centre and AI Group, who was visiting the Bengaluru campus this week. Here are some excerpts from the conversation, about the company’s thoughts on its ambitions for its team here, India as a datacentre market, and the future of computing needs, among many other things.  

On Intel’s team in India and the work engineers here do:

Sandra Rivera: They’re working on our CPUs. They’re working on our FPGAs. They work on our GPUs and AI accelerators. The team here is critical for everything in the datacentre portfolio; hardware and silicon development. That’s the Gaudi portfolio, so Gaudi 2 and 3, which is coming to market next year. The team here is this open development team that is actually delivering that product together with our team in Israel. We have software development in Poland, and we of course do work in the US as well, but primarily most of that development is happening in India and in Israel. 

We built up the team after the acquisition [of Habana Labs]; that’s a new investment that we made four-ish years ago now, and we’re very proud of what that team has done. The quality, execution discipline, and competitiveness of the portfolio is excellent, and we’re very excited about how much demand we’re seeing for those products.

On investing more in India, and where there is potential for growth:

Sandra Rivera: Some of the opportunities that we see are in the buildup of the ODMs, OEMs, and the electronics manufacturing industry. [Some of the ones we have relationships with] across the globe are seeing an opportunity in India. They’re investing in India and we’re investing with them. We work so deeply with the ecosystem. If you look at what we’ve done over the decades in Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, and other parts of the world with the supply chain, we think a lot of that’s going to happen here. So electronics manufacturing, we think, is a wonderful opportunity. We will be investing in the ecosystem. We’ll be partnering with them to make sure that they can deliver products to market and you’ll see many of the the multinational companies that are in the the server and ODM businesses coming here. We think it’s exciting. 

We’ve invested over $9 billion in India in our time here. We actually have a couple of new buildings that we put up a year or two before COVID, and now they’re filling up again, which we like to see. But beyond that, I don’t have anything specific in terms of a dollar amount.

On manufacturing in India and whether the workforce here is competitive enough to scale along with the rest of the world:

Sandra Rivera: Of course India can scale! Of course India can meet the moment. This is a huge market; the number of STEM graduates that are coming out of Indian universities; the workforce; the growth of the middle class; the knowledge workers… we think it’s a wonderful growth market and opportunity. So there’s absolutely no reason why India can’t be a technology leader and a manufacturing leader in the world. 

In fact one of the things I am most happy to see is that the number of women graduating with technical degrees is actually outpacing the number of men here. I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for more women to enter the tech workforce, and Intel is a huge supporter of diverse workforces and all of the goodness that comes from having a rich, diverse tapestry of employees. So I think there’s excellent silicon development skills. Every single one of my critical programs: CPU, GPU, AI, accelerators, and FPGAs; we have those skills here. There is of course a lot of software talent here and has been for decades, and we know that software is the big unlock of the capabilities in hardware. So we see that as a huge growth initiative.  

One of the things that I think Israel has been a leader in, and certainly Silicon Valley also, is in terms of startups and and entrepreneurial culture. We see that really growing tremendously in India; more startups every day. India has now come to this high-tech market, leapfrogging a lot of the things that you didn’t have to go through. When you look at US infrastructure, there’s lots of cables, wires, and copper. India just kind of skipped over all of that and went right to wireless and 5G. [There’s] so much innovative technology, and also innovative business models. The work that Reliance Jio and Tata have done here for years… I just think that there’s so much faster progress because India can see what happened in other more mature markets and just skip over generations of technology that are not the leading edge. So it’s an exciting time to be here and it’s a wonderful market for us to serve and ecosystem to invest in. 

We have a very technical workforce here and we’ll continue to invest in hardware and software engineering, validation, and all of the work that it takes to build products. We will be partnering with our customers and the ecosystem as we see more of that data gravity and sovereignty, where data that is originated in India wants to be processed in India. All the infrastructure that will be built for that is clearly a core growth opportunity for our products. Working with the ecosystem and investing in software and hardware startups and partners, I think, is a great opportunity and exciting for us.

On India as a market, and overall goals here:

Sandra Rivera: So today it’s small but growing. We see more datacentres and infrastructure buildout happening here. We certainly know that the amount of data being created [is growing]. Compute needs to come to where the data is created and consumed, and so I think that with the continued digitisation of India and every part of our lives, this will be a growing market for us. Historically, we’ve had excellent relationships with the telcos and communication service providers here. They’re offering more services, and we see more payment applications and homegrown financial capabilities. We think that we’re in the early days of just how big this market is going to be. We have a long history of investing early; we were the first ones in Taiwan, Israel, Vietnam and Malaysia. We like being on the ground floor of a growth opportunity.

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