Microsoft Enlists FPGAs to Catapult Cloud, Data Center Performance
The company will employ programmable hardware to push the boundaries of cloud-based workloads, save power and avert the twilight of Moore's Law.Microsoft is giving Bing a big upgrade in 2015, based on a fundamentally different computing foundation compared with commodity servers. Project Catapult, a collaboration between Microsoft Research and Bing, seeks to improve data center performance by up to 95 percent using an alternative to server processors called field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs). The group's work is detailed in a paper, A Reconfigurable Fabric for Accelerating Large-Scale Datacenter Services, which they presented June 16 at the International Symposium on Computer Architecture (ISCA) in Minneapolis. The project's aim is to head off the potential sunset of Moore's Law with a computing architecture that doesn't rely solely on shrinking transistors, a process that is expected to eventually run into the practical limits imposed by physics. (Moore's Law, named after Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore, dictates that computing power doubles roughly every 18 months as chip-makers pack more transistors into their processors.) Catapult's backers seek to accelerate cloud services while reducing costs as the performance curve of traditional server processors beings to plateau. Early tests have shown encouraging results, according to Derek Chiou, a Bing hardware architect. The test bed included 1,632 standard servers outfitted with Sandy Bridge Intel Xeon processors and FPGAs that resided on the PCIe bus. The high-end Stratix FPGAs, provided by Altera, in turn, were connected to one another with 10G-bit SAS cables.
The performance and efficiency gains were staggering, according to a blog post by Rob Knies, a Microsoft Research senior writer.