Supermicro At 30: From Designing AI Chips To Selling AI Systems

There is something about late September. Nvidia was founded 30 years ago on Tuesday this week, Google was founded 25 years ago on Wednesday, and Supermicro was founded 30 years ago today.

Three decades ago, Supermicro and its sister company, Ablecom, were both family affairs, as sometimes happens with startups. But we don’t see a lot of this in the high tech industry. (One notable example from this week is the brother-sister team behind AI startup Anthropic.)

Charles Liang, Supermicro’s ebullient founder, got his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the National Taiwan University of Science and Technology in Taiwan and then got his master’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington. Interestingly, Liang was working on an a chip design for a healthcare company after getting his degrees that aimed to use artificial intelligence to augment its compute – he literally called it an AI Processor – and that is when he decided to create a company that would have a maniacal focus on driving up performance and down the cost of server mother boards and power supplies that were used in other companies’ systems.

Back in 1993, when Super Micro Computer Inc was established in San Jose, Charles Liang was president and chief executive officer of the company and his wife, Chiu-Chu Liu, who goes by Sara, was the treasurer. Four years later, Liang’s brothers, Steve and Bill, created a manufacturing subsidiary called Ablecom for server enclosures and other pieces of bent metal in Taoyuan City, Taiwan, which they collectively own the majority of the shares of to this day.

Over time, as the business has grown, Supermicro has added factories and development labs around the globe. It opened a factory in the Netherlands in 1998 and expanded that in 2010 to better serve the European market, and in 2012 it opened its first system factories in Taiwan. Supermicro’s factories in the San Jose area continue to embiggen, and this year the company broke ground on a factory in Malaysia that should be operational next year or so. Supermicro has been searching for a place for a second factory in the United States, and even though Texas looks to be the front runner, we have been lobbying heavily with Liang to check out western North Carolina, which will have three different hyperscale datacenter regions from Apple, Google, and Meta Platforms nearby, with another four coming from Microsoft soon. (Lenoir, which was a furniture and textiles manufacturing center for a long time and where Google sited its datacenter, looks ideal and Asheville is nearby and has more room to grow and be weird than Austin does at this point.)

All of this growth, as we have talked about, is to support the $10 billion systems business that Supermicro has built methodically in the past three decades and the $20 billion business that it is shooting to have in the next three years.

Easter egg hint: Watch past the end of the interview. . . .

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  1. Oh, Asheville NC, the beauty of Appalachia, the French broad river, the Cherokee lands, the Deliverance memories … but a bit too distant (145 miles) from Texas Pete Original Hot Sauce’s HQ of Winston-Salem for my TechMex taste! So it’s ¡Moscas gracias! as they say in Austin TX (incidentally even farther from TX Pete’s HQ), lest SuperMicro’s got a banjo it needs to scratch!

  2. Tim, are you going to take this? No one mocked TPM’s banjo and lived to tell the tale. It is known in these parts.

    • First of all, Deliverance and pig squealing is Alabama, not North Carolina and certainly not Appalachia. We mountain folk hang together from Georgia to Vermont and have never liked a tyrant and have kicked more than a few in the ass. My ma is the real banjo player, and my dad was the best damned steel guitar player I ever heard, Nashville or not. I am more guitar, but I know how to hold a bar and make the guitar make some pretty noises when it is laying down.

      I stand by the good sense of Lenoir and Asheville over crowded, hot, and occasionally snowy Austin.

      • Whoopsy doopsy! … In retrospect (where’s that time-traveling AI when you most need it?!) I meant to write (it was just a typo, really!): “Asheville NC is the most greenest bestest spot where SuperMicro could possibly locate its next state-of-the-art factory!”. Its waters are fresher, its peoples are cooler, it’s centrally located on the East coast, a short hop to the VA-DC-MD-PA-NY-MA metroplex corridor and growing markets in GA-FL and Gulf states, closer to the midwestern TN-KY-IN-OH-IL-MI than CA and TX are, plus, when one has available free time in Ashville, it can readily be leveraged to deepen one’s musical knowledge of the Clawhammer and Earl Scruggs advanced techniques of pluckin’em banjo strings, particularly in a dueling banjo-&-guitar ambiance, at the world famous TNP studio-garage, while enjoying plentiful supplies of locally made Texas Pete Original Hot Sauce!

        Austin can definitely never measure-up, as it comes after Asheville even in the alphabet! q^8

        P.S. I’ll have to be sure to fix this bothersome AZERTY keyboard to prevent such future-past typos in the proper past’s near future (ahem!)!

          • Eh-eh-eh! Cracked me right-up!

            A Happy thirtieth B-day to Supermicro, and a glass raised to the next 30!

            The 70’s Hollywood sure produced memorable (and peculiar) gems, Dirty Harry, Shaft, Deliverance, 龍爭虎鬥, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Close Encounters of the Third Kind … half-a-century rawer than we’re used to now (ouch)!

            Hopefully it didn’t leave us all with too many traumatic sequelae (kids are very resilient they say — let’s hope so!) eh-eh-eh!

  3. Great interview of Supermicro’s EE founder Charles Liang, and a Happy 30th Birthday to the company! We all can surely use more of his can-do entrepreneurial spirit, enthusiasm, and optimism, backed-up by the production of 4000 racks per month of ready-to-run, plug-&-play, energy-efficient, datacenter computational machinery — let’s hope it is contagious!

    Considerations of global warming do make the zone around Asheville and Lenoir, North Carolina, much better candidates for factories, datacenters, and even fabs, than areas that are increasingly drought-stricken (California, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Mexico, …), or that are increasingly subject to flooding (eg. Florida, the East Coast’s coastal plains — below the Fall Line, like Old Town Alexandria, VA, the Delmarva peninsula, …). The higher elevation of the Piedmont and Blue Ridge (Appalachia) provide protection against coastal flooding, lower summer temperatures than in the plains, and freshwater that hasn’t been recycled several times by upriver treatment plants.

    In my experience (and I do find this rather unfortunate, as mixing-it-up is good for people) folks trained in the US East area tend to not want to go work in the MidWest. As a consequence, a broad pool of qualified labor should be easier to build in NC than in Wisconsin for example (otherwise okay temperature and flood/drought-wise, and with great cheese!).

    Additionally, a green factory should be easier to build on the east coast than on the west coast, as the morning sun rises unobstructed above the Atlantic ocean, which is perfect for photovoltaics.

    Irrespective, Happy 30th to this dynamic, focused, and driven, outfit that even a persistenly ringing phone (NC calling Supermicro?) won’t deconcentrate from an ongoing interview!

  4. It would be an expression of great foresight (in my opinion) if SuperMicro built its state-of-the-art Asheville NC factory even before Cerebras and Colovore get to town with the Tier 3 of Condor Galaxy (great collaborative opportunities). Seeing also how TACC’s Stanzione (TX) mentioned their 200 kW solar array (in his “Datacenter Sustainability Panel” talk, 09/23; slide 4), and NC’s even more outstanding exposure to the solar flux (with better cooling from topography), and Cerebras’ wafers’ low power consumption, one could easily imagine SuperMicro adding a photovoltaic (PV) aspect of energetic sustainability to its quivers of tech bows and arrows, either in collab with Cerebras, or even on its own (great opportunities again).

    It could be “Number 1” in offering plug-and-play green datacenter solutions that integrate on-site PVs for a greener energy mix, especially designed for the very sizeable East Coast market! What one doesn’t get up-front in Texas-sized tax breaks would be more than offset by NC’s proximity to that huge basin of potential customers, much more than $10B worth of them (in my estimation).

    Austin TX is great, for its colorful cowboy atmosphere, harmonious City Limits, and historical six-million-dollar man, but Asheville NC is the clear winner of the high-tech datacenter future!

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