FPGAs in Data Centres: Opportunities and Challenges (Part 2 of 2)

V.P. Sampath is a senior member of IEEE and a member of Institution of Engineers India. He is currently working as technical architect at AdeptChips, Bengaluru. He is a regular contributor to national newspapers, IEEE-MAS section, and has published international papers on VLSI and networks -- Dr V.N. Ramakrishnan is an associate professor in Department of Micro & Nanoelectronics, VIT University, Vellore


To get around the run-time issues, Xilinx deployed their partial-reconfiguration technology. This allowed the FPGA to be re-configured with a different algorithm without interrupting system execution. This is critical in data centre applications where a server cannot be arbitrarily taken offline in order to process a normal, full-FPGA configuration cycle. Partial reconfiguration allows the FPGA to keep its inputs/outputs live and to keep some baseline communication with the applications processor while it quickly swaps in new acceleration bitstreams. If the software development and deployment environment is good enough to realise even a fraction of that potential in the data centre, it could represent the biggest revolution ever in managing data centre power.

Emerging algorithms are gaining traction in a wide variety of pattern-matching jobs, from serving up Facebook news feeds to piloting self-driving cars. FPGAs are enabling new types of servers to execute massive bitwise operations in parallel. Analytics servers can replace hundreds of contemporary servers. Microsoft’s data centres drive services like Cortana and Skype Translator, and the company is constantly looking to upgrade server performance. Microsoft is also working with Intel to implement silicon photonics, which will replace copper wires with fibre optics for faster communication between data centre servers.



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