Programmable logic is critical for SSDC development

19th June 2014
Nat Bowers

Altera announced that its FPGAs are central to software defined data centre (SSDC) development, and that Altera is working with Microsoft Research and Bing to accelerate portions of the web search engine. Altera's field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) can accelerate the processing of large amounts of data on servers, which helps address big data challenges and massive distributed workloads.

Microsoft shared key developments in a research paper titled, "A Reconfigurable Fabric for Accelerating Large-Scale Data centre Services" that was presented today at the 41st International Symposium on Computer Architecture (ISCA) in Minneapolis. The paper details how Altera's technologies are used to increase performance.

"The performance requirements for today's large data centre workloads are outstripping what general-purpose servers can provide, so we ran a pilot using Altera technology to deliver more acceleration than software running on servers alone," said Doug Burger, director of Client and Cloud Applications in Microsoft Research's Technology division. "We set a performance target that would be a significant throughput gain, while simultaneously permitting more advanced search ranking models to be run. Compared to a pure software implementation, our reconfigurable acceleration fabric permitted a 90 percent improvement in throughput at each ranking server, with great system stability. A satisfying and positive result."

Distributed reconfigurable fabrics have the potential to be a viable path forward as server performance increases continue to level off and will be crucial at the end of Moore's Law for continued cost and capability improvements.

Based on the results, Bing plans to roll out FPGA-accelerated servers to process customer searches in one of its data centres starting in early 2015.

Altera's view of the software defined data centre is that programmable logic, and FPGAs, in particular, are helping drive the transformation of the modern data centre. Data centres are increasingly addressing challenging big data analytics and HPC requirements with tight coupling and sharing of computing, networking, and storage resources. A data centre's infrastructure can be virtualised and delivered as a service over commodity servers. This kind of data centre provides greater business agility, and its complexity can be managed as it scales. The software defined data centre will offer software defined allocation and prioritisation of virtualised computing, networking, and storage resources. Altera is bringing to the market silicon technologies of its own and with partners to address these challenges.

Altera's software defined data centre technology offerings include the company's high performance Altera Stratix V and Arria 10 FPGAs, and the coming Stratix 10 FPGAs and SoCs developed on the Intel 14nm Tri-Gate process and the groundbreaking Altera Stratix 10 HyperFlex architecture. Altera's Stratix FPGAs provide unprecedented reconfigurable logic combined with on-chip memory and DSP blocks, enabling the high performance and flexibility required by the demanding data centre environment.

"Altera FPGAs help Microsoft meet the challenging workload requirements of high performance computing, while they help data centres stay within necessary cost, power efficiency and space limits," said Michael Strickland, director of the Compute and Storage business unit, Altera. "Adding fine-grained FPGA acceleration to the compute fabric advances data centre capabilities beyond what commodity server designs can provide."

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