Huawei unveils new AI chip aimed at growing its share of the booming Cloud services market

  • TECH
  • Friday, 23 Aug 2019

Although AI is still in the early stages of development, Huawei said it is committed to providing stronger computing power to increase the speed of complex AI models. — SCMP

Huawei Technologies has unveiled a new high-end artificial intelligence (AI) chip for servers, bidding to grow its share of the booming Cloud services market even as the world’s largest network equipment vendor battles a US trade ban.

Ascend 910, an AI processor first mentioned by Huawei in Shanghai last year, is the “world’s most powerful AI processor” targeted at AI model training, the company said in a press release on Friday. Huawei added that it sees AI as a “general purpose technology” that can be used in almost every sector of the economy.

“The Ascend 910 has performed much better than initial expectations,” said Eric Xu Zhijun, Huawei’s rotating chairman at the media launch in Shenzhen. “Without doubt, it has more computing power than any other AI processor in the world.”

Although AI is still in the early stages of development, Huawei said it is committed to providing stronger computing power to increase the speed of complex AI models, making the technology more affordable and effective.

The “holy grail” of AI hardware is flexible, high-performance chips for training machine learning. Until now, only Nividia, and to a lesser extent Google, have been able to develop hardware for machine-learning training that AI researchers have widely adopted.

For Huawei’s latest chip to be a game-changer, it would need to mount a serious challenge to Nvidia’s GPU or Google’s TPU, said Lorand Laskai, a visiting researcher at the Center for Security and Emerging Technology at Georgetown University.

“Even though Huawei designs many of its chips in-house, it still relies on a number of key Western technologies, making it vulnerable to US blacklisting. AI chips are no different,” said Laskai.

On Monday Huawei was granted another temporary 90 days reprieve by the US from its trade ban, lasting until Nov 19. The company was banned from buying American technology (added to the Entity List) by the US Commerce Department in mid-May on national security grounds. The chip launch is seen as a counter-attack by Huawei.

Many analysts regard the reprieve to be more aimed at helping US suppliers adjust to a future without Huawei rather than an attempt to offer the Chinese tech giant any support – a view underlined by its rotating chairman on Friday.

“The 90-day reprieve has no value to Huawei, as we are already used to living and working under the Entity List,” said Xu. “We are ready to work and live under such a situation for a long time.”

Huawei also launched MindSpore in Shenzhen on Friday, an AI computing framework that supports the development of AI applications. The Chinese company aims to offer a portfolio of AI products to meet the different needs of businesses and consumers.

“MindSpore not only supports Huawei’s newly released AI chipset, but also supports CPUs and GPUs from other vendors,” said Xu on Friday.

The Chinese company officially unveiled its self-made operating system, Harmony OS, in China earlier this month, saying it could be used on its new phones if access to Google’s Android OS is permanently cut off.

Xu also confirmed that Huawei is exploring alternatives to chip design software from market leaders Cadence Design Systems and Synopsys.

“Huawei is desperate to escape its dependence on US technology,” said James Lewis, senior vice-president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank. “In some areas, such as memory, operating systems, they will succeed and relatively soon. But in many other areas, Huawei is still years behind in many key technologies.” – South China Morning Post

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