Nvidia's DGX-2 supercomputer for AI on display at GTC 2018 in San Jose, California Yevgeniy Sverdlik
Nvidia's DGX-2 supercomputer for AI on display at GTC 2018 in San Jose, California

Investors Place Bets on Two Small Players in Data Center Infrastructure for AI

Samsung Ventures invests in Bitfusion; Smart acquires Penguin Computing

The AI field is booming, and Nvidia isn’t the only company raking in cash from sales of computing infrastructure that powers AI-enabling technologies like neural networks.

Two small players recently secured new funding from strategic investors, one in the form of venture capital, the other in the form of a debt-funded acquisition.

Samsung Ventures has made a strategic investment in Bitfusion, a startup that develops software for managing GPU and FPGA clusters, while Smart Global Holdings has acquired Penguin Computing, a hardware maker that’s traditionally specialized in high-performance computing but lately has also been focused on hardware for AI.

Sunnyvale, California-based Bitfusion’s platform wrangles a company’s GPUs and FPGAs (both types of chips are commonly used for neural-network training and inferencing workloads, although GPUs are more popular) wherever they’re deployed across the organization, creating a unified pool of computing resources.

“Bitfusion Elastic Platform is a unique solution that can offer flexibility as well as Opex and Capex savings for deploying artificial intelligence and machine learning workloads,” Thomas Jueng, Samsung Ventures investment director, said in a statement. “It also maximizes utilization and performance metrics across heterogeneous GPU clusters.”

The companies did not disclose the size of the investment, but Samsung has joined Bitfusion’s board of directors as part of the deal.

Fremont, California-based Penguin’s new parent company, Smart, is a supplier of storage and memory components to manufacturers in a variety of verticals, including computing and networking. It also provides integrated supply chain services to its customers.

Penguin is the first part of a new business unit Smart has created. Called Smart Specialty Compute & Storage Solutions, the unit will use the holding company’s existing infrastructure and sister-unit products to expand in the emerging AI and machine learning markets.

Penguin is an active participant in the Open Compute Project, the open source data center and hardware design organization created by Facebook, and uses OCP designs to build its hardware. The company also provides HPC infrastructure as a cloud service.

Smart will pay up to $85 million for Penguin, including up to $25 million in performance-based payments, Smart said in a statement. KKR Credit provided debt financing for the transaction.

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