In the spirit of the last couple of years, we review developments in what we have identified as the key technology drivers for the 2020s in the world of databases, data management and AI. We are looking back at 2021, trying to identify patterns that will shape 2022. Today we pick up from where we started with part one of our review, to cover AI and knowledge graphs. The AI and ML deployments are well underway, but for CXOs the biggest issue will be managing these initiatives, and figuring out where the data science team fits in and what algorithms to buy versus build. In principle, we try to approach AI holistically.
Few companies had enjoyed the sort of bull run AI chipmaker Nvidia (NVDA) had been on, returning more than 1200% between June 2015 and June 2018, eventually hitting a market cap of about $175 billion by September 2018. However, while many companies have bounced back, Nvidia has continued to languish, sitting at a valuation of about $88 billion, pretty much where it was circa May 2017 when we compared its AI chip technology against AMD (AMD). Now, over the last five years, the two chip manufacturers have returned almost identical value to investors, while a number of upstart startups have risen to also challenge Nvidia's supremacy with new artificial intelligence chips. In fact, it was exactly three years ago that we first introduced you to five startups building artificial intelligence chips, and then followed that up with 12 new AI chip makers in 2017. Last year, we noted that the Chinese are also gunning for Nvidia with their own homegrown artificial intelligence chips, as China seeks to dominate everything to do with AI and other emerging technologies.
"I think most people would say we are the most credible competitor to Nvidia," says Kunle Olukotun, Stanford University computer science professor and co-founder of AI startup SambaNova Systems. SambaNova Tuesday announced a new round of venture capital funding that brings its capital to date to over $1 billion. In yet another sign of the rising interest in alternative computing technology, AI systems startup SambaNova Systems on Tuesday said it has received $676 million in a Series D financing from a group of investors that includes the SoftBank Vision Fund of Japanese conglomerate SoftBank Group; private equity firm BlackRock; and the Intel Capital arm of chip giant Intel. The new funding round brings the company's total investment to date to over $1 billion. The company is now valued at more than $5 billion.
SambaNova says just one quarter of a rack's worth of its DataScale computer can replace 64 separate Nvidia DGX-2 machines taking up multiple racks of equipment, when crunching various deep learning tasks such as natural language processing tasks on neural networks with billions of parameters such as Google's BERT-Large. The still very young market for artificial intelligence computers is spawning interesting business models. On Wednesday, SambaNova Systems, the Palo Alto-based startup that has received almost half a billion dollars in venture capital money, announced general availability of its dedicated AI computer, the DataScale and also announced an as-a-service offering where you can have the machine placed in your data center and rent its capacity for $10,000 a month. "What this is, is a way for people to gain quick and easy access at an entry price of $10,000 per month, and consume DataScale product as a service," said Marshall Choy, Vice President of product at SambaNova, in an interview with ZDNet via video. "I'll roll a rack, or many racks, into their data center, I'll own and manage and support the hardware for them, so they truly can just consume this product as a service offering."
Like artificial intelligence itself, the AI startup SambaNova is interesting across the stack. SambaNova has made the news for a number of reasons: high-profile founders, a series of funding rounds propelling it into unicorn territory, impressive AI chip technology and unconventional choices in packaging it. The company is now executing on its goal -- to enable AI disruption in the enterprise. SambaNova just announced its GPT-as-a-service offering, its ELEVAITE membership program for customers, and is working with one of the biggest banks in Europe to build what it claims will be Europe's fastest AI supercomputer. We connected with SambaNova CEO and co-founder Rodrigo Liang to talk about all that, plus one of our favorite topics: graphs and how they underpin SambaNova's offering.