Appointed CEO back in 2018 Victor Peng has taken Xilinx through a transformative period, the next stage of which is its acquisition by AMD. Neil Tyler gets an update.

Appointed CEO back in 2018 Victor Peng has navigated Xilinx through a transformative period, during which he has turned the company into far more than just another provider of FPGAs.

Today, Xilinx offers a range of solutions for many more markets. Over the past few years it has developed a range of new boards and platforms as well its more traditional products including its Versal line, Alveo PCIe cards, Kria SOMs, and the Vitis software platform. This week, it added to its Versal line with the launch of Versal AI Edge, its new platform for delivering intelligence at the edge.

While the company has developed this solid pipeline of products its focus, led by Peng, has also changed with the data centre market having now been placed front and centre.

Today, the company is now attracting another set of headlines as a result of its proposed acquisition by AMD.

For any CEO all of this would represent as impressive in-tray and Peng starts by talking openly about the acquisition.

“It’s the big story of the moment and there’s bound to be a lot of interest in what it means for our customers and for the business itself. Combined our two companies will be able to provide a much broader range of products and, unlike many other acquisitions, our portfolios are very complementary.

“There is one area of significant overlap as both Xilinx and AMD are focused on the data centre space, that’s true, but the breadth of the markets we will now be able to engage with will offer a truly end-to-end mix of products and platforms – whether that’s intelligent edge devices or the communications infrastructure that provides the connectivity.

“Very few companies will be in that position. The announcement has been welcomed by our customers who, I believe, see the value in it and the benefits of scaling up and offering new products – we only overlap in one critical area.”

According to Peng, “The response from our shareholders has been really positive with both boards receiving resounding endorsements that have supported the deal.”

The deal is expected to be closed by the end of 2021.

While Peng says he's not losing any sleep over the deal, he jokes that if he was going to lose sleep over anything it’s more likely to be over the shortage of semiconductors and the continuing trade tensions that appeared before, and which have persisted, throughout the global pandemic of the past 15 months.

While both IBM and Intel have talked of shortages lasting well into 2023, Peng believes that those shortages are unlikely to last beyond 2022.

“I’ve seen no signals that it will last into 2023, but then three months ago I thought it would be over by 2021 and now it’s stretching into next year. Across the industry, everyone is looking to build more capacity – (TSMC has just announced that it had started construction at a site in Arizona where it plans to spend $12 billion to build a computer chip factory) – and Xilinx has been working closely and co-operating with our customers, including those supplying packaging and substrates,” said Peng.

“Where it was necessary we brought in new suppliers, but it remains a difficult trading environment and we will have to continue to handle limitations in terms of supply.”

Peng makes that point that for companies like TSMC it’s not easy to ‘flip’ chip production – it takes time.

“Everyone was caught off-guard by the strong upsurge in demand, so as an industry we have to rethink the concepts of lean manufacturing and just-in-time as well as the levels of inventory that we have traditionally worked with – that will have to change.”

Strategy update

When Peng became CEO Xilinx embarked on a new growth strategy that saw it focus on the data centre market and the company also made the move to adaptive computing with the launch of the Versal ACAP.

“We are no longer simply a FPGA supplier. Our focus has changed and we now provide higher levels of integration which you can see with our Alveo line. We also now offer compute cards, SmartNICs, and the recently launched Kria SOM,” Peng explained.

“When I became CEO we had to acknowledge that the landscape was changing. We were in a smart connected world that, along with artificial intelligence, was scaling out with the development of smart homes, factories and cities. Innovation was accelerating and we needed a growth strategy built around that landscape.”

According to Peng the company’s strategy has been built on three pillars: the data centre, the company’s core markets – which remain ‘super critical’ - and finally, adaptive computing.

“We were seeing accelerated growth in smarter and more connected devices so our strategy had to change. My belief was that we could drive higher growth rates and really needed to ‘stomp’ on the accelerator pedal. We’ve certainly upped our game as we’ve moved into fast growing markets like data centres (the cloud provider/hyper-scaler market) 5G and wireless communications.”

The company’s change of focus, in particular its move to adaptive computing, has seen the development of a long list of new adaptable hardware such as the Alveo SN1000 FPGA-powered 100GbE SmartNIC and a new range of solutions for the fast growing 5G market, such as the RFSoC FPGA.

Communications remains a critical core market and Xilinx has continued to develop products for this space, such as its T1 FPGA for ORAN baseband units. But along with communications, Xilinx has also continued to perform remarkably well in its traditional core markets - automotive, industrial and wireless.

“We saw record revenues in our fourth quarter,” said Peng, “and further improvement in demand across most of our markets. That’s testament to our investment strategy and on our focus on developing new platforms such as Versal – highlighting the strategy we’ve followed over the past few years.

“The move away from simply developing FPGAs to boards and platforms has enabled and accelerated innovation across these key markets and we’ve really benefitted from growing demand for robotics, telemedicine as well as new developments in aerospace, defence and space.”

Xilinx has invested heavily in AI inference performance and the development of the Versal ACAP, which offers a combination of AI acceleration and flexible programmability, has exposed the business to many new customers.

That engagement has also triggered another aspect of the company’s expansion efforts which has been to focus on how it engages with the developer community.

To encourage greater adoption of its platforms Xilinx has started to build tools, such as Vitis, with features to get FPGAs up and running and that allow programming via higher-level languages such as Python.

“We wanted to create a development environment in which newer customers felt comfortable,” said Peng.

“Ease of use is incredibly important and we want to create an ecosystem to support developers. Xilinx is now also contributing more code to Github projects and we’re starting to see more users develop for FPGAs.

“Xilinx now even has an app store to make running an application on FPGAs an almost turnkey experience and where you can even buy hardware.

“It’s been a journey, and we’re still on it,” concluded Peng, “but we now have a growing collection of innovative partners that are using our platforms and hardware and starting to show some compelling results.”