“Collision of Two Worlds”
The FPGA Supercomputing Nexus of Hardware and Software
May 20, 2014
by Kevin Morris
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“Recently, we talked to Allan Cantle (founder of Nallatech) about the state of affairs in FPGA-based computing. Cantle’s team were pioneers in FPGA-based supercomputing more than a decade ago, and both their hardware and software have continued to be among the most effective at putting FPGAs to work in challenging computing problems. Cantle pointed out that, thanks to current language and tool technologies like OpenCL and HLS, we are now arriving at a state where teams can access the benefits of FPGA-based acceleration without having resident hardware experts.
One problem that needed to be addressed, however, was form factor. Software-centric teams are not accustomed to buying chips. In fact, most software-centric teams are uncomfortable even with the idea of boards. While hardware engineers live every day in the land of silicon and FR4, software engineers like their computers to come in nice sturdy boxes – preferably with a built-in power supply. Nallatech is currently attacking that problem as well – building FPGA-based accelerator cards as well as full rack-mounted systems (with partners like HP and IBM) that take advantage of Altera’s FPGAs and OpenCL flow.
These types of platforms have FPGAs knocking on the door of the data center – a land of riches previously off limits to our LUT-laden lads. With the extreme challenges faced by data centers today in terms of computational power efficiency, there is the potential for an explosive invasion of FPGA technology. It all hinges on the success of current efforts at taming the programming model problem for these heterogeneous computing systems, and getting those hardware and software disciplines to meet nicely in the middle.”