Intel Officially Introduces Pay-As-You-Go Chip Licensing

Intel has officially revealed its Intel On Demand program (opens in new tab) that will activate select accelerators and features of the company’s upcoming Xeon Scalable Sapphire Rapids processor. The new pay-as-you-go program will allow Intel to reduce the number of SKUs it ships while still capitalizing on the technologies it has to offer. Furthermore, its clients will be able to upgrade their machines without replacing actual hardware or offering additional services to their clients.

Intel’s upcoming Intel’s 4th Generation Xeon Scalable Sapphire Rapids processors are equipped with various special-purpose accelerators and security technologies that all customers do not need at all times. To offer such end-users additional flexibility regarding investments, Intel will deliver them to buy its CPUs with those capabilities disabled but turn them on if they are needed at some point. The Software Defined Silicon (SDSi) technology will also allow Intel to sell fewer CPU models and then enable its clients or partners to activate certain features if needed (to use them on-prem or offer them as a service).

The list of technologies that Intel wants to make available on demand includes Software Guard Extensions, Dynamic Load Balancer (DLB), Intel Data Streaming Accelerator (DSA), Intel In-Memory Analytics Accelerator (IAA), Intel In-Memory Analytics Accelerator, and Intel QuickAssist Technology (QAT) to accelerate specific workloads.

Since Intel’s On Demand technologies are aimed at entirely different workloads, very few customers will need all of them at once. But as they scale their data centers, they may require some of them, which is when the On Demand capability comes into play. Meanwhile, some of Intel’s customers will offer those capabilities as a service (e.g., for cloud and co-hosting machines). In contrast, others will contribute to activating them on servers installed on-premise.

The formal rollout of the Intel On Demand program leaves more questions than answers. We do not know how much Intel plans to charge to activate certain features or how much its clients will want to start them ‘as a service.’ We know that companies like H3C, HPE, Inspur, Lenovo, Supermicro, PhoenixNAP, and Variscale will be a part of the On Demand program.

For now, Intel’s On Demand program is reserved for servers, and we would expect it to remain a prerogative of Xeon platforms. Meanwhile, back in the day, Intel offered software upgrades for its desktop processors (opens in new tab) to make them run faster. Unfortunately, that program faced criticism as Intel essentially crippled its perfectly fine processors. As a result, some might think the On Demand program mimics the ill-fated Intel Upgrade Service. Still, keeping in mind that the server world behaves differently than the client PC world and that we do not know the terms of Intel’s On Demand, we would not draw parallels here until we know all the details.