US semiconductor giant Intel has acquired Israeli startup Habana Labs, a developer of artificial intelligence processors, for $2 billion, the company announced on Monday.
Founded in 2016, Habana Labs develops processor platforms that are optimized for training deep neural networks and for inference deployment in production environments. The company is headquartered in Tel Aviv and has offices in California, Poland, and China.
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Intel led a $75 million investment in Habana Labs in 2018. That year, Habana unveiled its Goya inference processor which it says is ideally suited for the most demanding AI applications in the industry, including private and cloud data centers, autonomous vehicles, factory and warehouse automation robots, and high-end drones. In 2019, Habana announced a new processor, the Habana Gaudi, which the startup said delivers an increase in throughput of up to four times over systems built with the equivalent number of GPUs.
The acquisition of Habana, Intel said in a statement, “strengthens Intel’s artificial intelligence (AI) portfolio and accelerates its efforts in the nascent, fast-growing AI silicon market, which Intel expects to be greater than $25 billion by 2024.”
“Together, Intel and Habana can accelerate the delivery of best-in-class AI products for the data center, addressing customers’ evolving needs,” Intel added.
The announcement confirms reports earlier this month that Intel was eyeing Habana Labs for acquisition in a bid to “challenge Nvidia’s dominance in the AI processor domain.” Nvidia announced the acquisition of Israel’s Mellanox Technologies earlier this year, a company Intel was itself looking to buy.
Habana Labs will remain an independent business unit and will continue to be based in Israel where Intel already has a significant presence and a track record of prominent investments. In 2017, Intel acquired Mobileye, the Jerusalem-based developer of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) for $15.3 billion, the biggest Israeli exit to date.
Intel indicated that Habana Labs will also continue to be led by its current management team which will report to Intel’s Data Platforms Group, home to Intel’s broad portfolio of data center-class AI technologies.
Habana chairman Avigdor Willenz will serve as a senior adviser to the business unit as well as to Intel, the company said.
“This acquisition advances our AI strategy, which is to provide customers with solutions to fit every performance need – from the intelligent edge to the data center,” said Navin Shenoy, executive VP and general manager of the Data Platforms Group at Intel. “More specifically, Habana turbo-charges our AI offerings for the data center with a high-performance training processor family and a standards-based programming environment to address evolving AI workloads.”
“We know that customers are looking for ease of programmability with purpose-built AI solutions, as well as superior, scalable performance on a wide variety of workloads and neural network topologies,” Shenoy went on. “That’s why we’re thrilled to have an AI team of Habana’s caliber with a proven track record of execution joining Intel. Our combined IP and expertise will deliver unmatched computing performance and efficiency for AI workloads in the data center.”
Habana Labs CEO David Dahan said: “We have been fortunate to get to know and collaborate with Intel given its investment in Habana, and we’re thrilled to be officially joining the team. Intel has created a world-class AI team and capability. We are excited to partner with Intel to accelerate and scale our business.”
Intel in Israel
Intel employs about 12,000 people in Israel including 1,000 from Mobileye. It is considered the largest employer in the high-tech sector with several sites across Israel, including the manufacturing site in Kiryat Gat, the development center in Haifa, the design and development center in Petach Tikva for the development of components and software in the cellular communications market, and a design and development center in Yakum in central Israel which provides chipsets for mobile platforms.
Intel’s investment arm, Intel Capital, is a leading corporate investor in the Israeli high-tech ecosystem.
Since it began operations in Israel in 1974, Intel has indicated that its investment in the Israeli economy has totaled over $35 billion.