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Intel’s Inventor of the Year Follows the Data

Intel Innovator: Vinodh Gopal, senior principal engineer and Intel’s Inventor of the Year

Vinodh Gopal
Vinodh Gopal, senior principal engineer at Intel in the Data Center Group’s System Innovation Lab, was honored as Intel’s 2019 Inventor of the Year.

How he’d describe his job to a 10-year-old: “I work in the Data Center Group, which basically builds super powerful computer systems that run the world’s modern services. All our data such as photos, videos and documents get stored here, and these systems move all our data such as emails and messages around the world. My team improves the processing of all this data so that people can enjoy services like Google Docs* and Classroom*, shopping online via Amazon*, playing online games, making video calls or watching their favorite shows on Netflix*.”

More: Read about all Intel Innovators

New challenges from across Intel: Vinodh works in the Data Center Group’s System Innovation Lab. He and his co-workers are like a special forces team — rather than focus on a particular product, they are often pulled in by teams from across the company to help improve existing designs or create new features. Recently, they tackled encryption for Intel® Optane™ DC Persistent Memory, encryption for graphics and display, and compression engines for machine learning and 5G data. “The solution could be microarchitecture, it could be an instruction, it could be all software,” Vinodh says. “Each engagement takes you in a different direction.”

Getting ahead of the issues: “We follow the data,” Vinodh says of his team’s skillset, which often puts them at the front edge of problems that others don’t see coming. “The opportunity now is just immense with the amount of data that’s being generated and what we foresee is going to happen,” he says. He highlights the need to secure data (with encryption), to move and store it efficiently (with compression) and process it (with analytics). “There’s so much demand and all of these problems are just so critical. You’re never done with any of them.”

A family tree of innovation: Vinodh’s work has led to 193 patent families and counting (a patent family is a single invention that can result in many patents in different countries), yielding over 300 issued patents — 170 in the U.S. alone. He’s filed inventions across eight different Intel patent committees and a wide span of technology: instruction sets, processor architecture, accelerators, algorithms, memory, storage and interconnects. Intel Senior Fellow Matt Adiletta, who leads the System Innovation Lab, says Vinodh “is rare in that he can move comfortably across deep technical domains while contributing to each. He has consistently demonstrated a curiosity and technical energy to innovate and solve the toughest problems.”

Serving 2 billion online shoppers, securely: What earned Vinodh Intel’s 2019 Inventor of the Year honor is not just the number and breadth of his inventions, but their long-term impact. Remember, for example, when encryption was rare because the performance overhead was too great? That was before Vinodh and team helped invent and introduce features like AES-NI. First implemented in the “Westmere” generation of the Intel® Xeon® processor, it made encryption essentially free. “Every time you securely shop online, you are likely to be using some of Vinodh’s many innovations making encryption more efficient,” says Wajdi Feghali, Intel Fellow and Vinodh’s boss.

Always looking harder for ideas: “The key thing is to keep questioning your assumptions: what you’re doing, why you’re doing it. I’m always surprised how there’s opportunity for innovation in everything,” says Vinodh, who joined Intel in 2002. “The thing that you thought was done, if you look at it more carefully, you discover more cool things you could be doing. A lot of the innovation comes when you look harder. You need to challenge the status quo, and never accept that what you have can’t be improved. The ideas are there. It’s just who looks harder to find them.”

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