In a bid to lower its reliance on Nvidia’s hardware for artificial intelligence applications, Chinese cloud giant Baidu acquired hundreds of servers based on Huawei’s HiSilicon Ascend 910B processors, reports Reuters citing sources with knowledge of the matter. These application specific integrated circuits (ASICs) were developed to compete against Nvidia’s A100 AI and HPC GPUs, but many would consider them outdated.
In total, Baidu ordered 200 servers running 1600 Ascend 910B processors in August, demonstrating that Baidu is serious about using Huawei’s technology on a large scale. Huawei’s Ascend 910B is meant to compete with Nvidia’s A100-based offerings that are used primarily for inference, and Baidu’s order is a big vote of confidence for Huawei. By October, Huawei had already delivered about 1,000 of the processors, proving it can handle relatively big orders pretty quickly despite restrictions by the U.S. government.
Speaking of volume, it should be noted that Baidu uses thousands of Nvidia GPUs, so Baidu is not wholesale substituting Ampere or Hopper GPUs with Huawei’s hardware. However, Baidu’s decision to use Huawei’s ASICs marks a notable shift in its procurement strategy, signaling that the company is willing to use Chinese processors instead of those developed by Nvidia for its AI application. Given the fact that Nvidia can no longer ship its AI and HPC GPUs to China-based entities without an export license, Baidu and other Chinese companies will have to choose AI processors from domestic vendors.
Interestingly, Baidu has its own Kunlun AI processors. By choosing to deploy Huawei’s HiSilicon Ascend 910B, Baidu may be pursuing a multifaceted AI strategy that relies on AI processors from multiple vendors and in-house designed silicon. It naturally indicates a strategic shift for Baidu, potentially setting a precedent for other tech giants to follow.
As far as Huawei is concerned, if it manages to ensure a stable supply of its HiSilicon Ascend 910B ASIC, it could earn a significant revenue stream from Chinese companies that are starving for AI and HPC processors due to the US government’s ever-tightening sanctions.