Technology has come a long way. We see constant development and growth in terms of computing hardware, software and storage. Although some technologists say, those gains are stalling, perhaps limited in by the physical boundary of raw materials that are used in central processing units.
Recently Microsoft thinks it may have found the solution namely field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs). A FPGA is an integrated circuit designed to be configured by a customer or a designer after manufacturing – thus it is said to be “field-programmable”. To define the behavior of the FPGA, the user provides:
The HDL form is more optimal for large structures as you can specify them numerically rather than having to draw every piece by hand. However, schematic entry can allow for easier visualization of a design. FPGA allows you flexibility in your designs and is a way to change how parts of a system work without introducing a large amount of cost and risk of delays into the design schedule. Many designers have the false impression that building a system with a modern FPGA means you have to deal with millions of logic gates and a massive amounts of connections just to do something useful. But if that were the case, FPGA use wouldn’t be growing: Instead, there would only be about a half dozen FPGA users left. It turns out FPGA designers have done much of the heavy lifting of adding commonly needed components so all that you have to concentrate on is customizing those functions that are specific to your application. Examples of components produced by designers comprise: clock generators, dynamic random access memory (DRAM) controllers and even whole multicore microprocessors.
This type of computer chip that can be reprogrammed for specific tasks after they leave the factory floor, are adding firepower to Microsoft’s network of on-demand computing power.
Using all of the power of Microsoft’s data centers worldwide, the company could translate all 5 million articles on the English language Wikipedia in less than a tenth of a second.
In the past 2 years Microsoft has quietly been installing FPGAs on the new servers; Microsoft added to its global fleet of data centers. They’re present usage includes ranking results in the Bing search engine and speed the performance of Microsoft’s Azure cloud-computing network. Microsoft is alone among major cloud-computing players in widely deploying FPGA technology.
There are also implications for high performance computing and data storage such as solutions for Network Attached Storage (NAS), Storage Area Network (SAN), servers, and storage appliances.
Project Catapult is the technology behind Microsoft’s hyperscale acceleration fabric. The supercomputing substrate is built with the aim to accelerate the efforts in networking, security, cloud services and artificial intelligence.
Project Catapult combines an FPGA integrated into nearly every new Microsoft datacenter server. By exploiting the reconfigurable nature of FPGAs, at the server, the Catapult architecture delivers the efficiency and performance of custom hardware without the cost, complexity and risk of deploying fully customized ASICs into the datacenter. Moreover, the performance gain compared with CPUs is monumental and with less than 30% cost increase, and no more than 10% power increase.
Due to their programmable nature, FPGAs are an ideal for numerous markets. As the industry leader, Xilinx provides comprehensive solutions consisting of FPGA devices, advanced software, and configurable, ready-to-use IP cores for markets and applications such as:
The advancement in computing power and storage capability combined with substantial savings and efficiency introduced through FPGA technology mean the world of supercomputing is more accessible then ever.
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