AMD Adds DPUs With Pensando Buy

By acquiring Pensando, AMD will instantly offer DPUs alongside its CPUs and GPUs. Although it principally sells smart NICs, the startup recently announced a design win for its 7nm second-generation chip.
Bob Wheeler
Bob Wheeler

It’s official: the data-center-processing stool has three legs. By acquiring Pensando, AMD will join Intel in offering data-processing units (DPUs) alongside its CPUs and GPUs, whereas Nvidia is adding a CPU to complement its DPUs and GPUs. Surprisingly, the acquisition should allow AMD to leapfrog both rivals in DPU shipments, as Pensando has been in volume production since 2019 with design wins at large public-cloud providers, enterprise customers, and OEMs. Although it principally sells smart NICs using its custom ASICs, the startup recently announced that its second-generation chip won a design in an Aruba (HPE) switch.

AMD will pay about $1.9 billion for Pensando, which raised $313 million in three rounds. The ex-Cisco team of MPLS—Mario Mazzola, Prem Jain, Luca Cafiero, and Soni Jiandani—sold their last three startups back to Cisco, but this time, the networking company was either uninterested or outbid. Assuming the deal closes as expected later this quarter, CEO Jain will lead the Pensando team of about 330 under Forrest Norrod’s Data Center Solutions Group.

AMD will inherit a relatively fresh DPU in the 7nm Elba, which builds on the first-generation 16nm Capri ASIC. A distinguishing feature of the design is data-plane programmability using the P4 language with extensions. Pensando also stands out from smart-NIC competitors in offering production-quality software for load balancing, stateful firewalls, microsegmentation, and VPN/TLS termination.

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