Monday, July 31, 2006

Intel, AMD, Sun... Xilinx?

Article discusses the potential for FPGA-targetted software. Touches upon Intel's EPIC project that was supposed to make the Itanium rule the world. I think the problem is that the scope of the Itanium processor pushed it to far out of reach. FPGAs on the other hand have the nice property of sweeping across many markets, price points and even usage patterns (embedded controller, DSP, HPC accelerator---what I've been calling "versatility value"). A vendor selling rack-mountable black boxes for application specific enterprise computing needs, has only to demonstrate performance/cost improvements for the application in order to be a viable competitor. If an FPGA solution costs less than an Itanium and can get the job done. then why not go with it?

This market is wide and open. Reconfigurable computing could potentially have an enormous effect on the next revision of the internet infrastructure. Lack of developers is the only reason I can see why this hasn't taken off already. Most people who observe these issues would agree that current FPGA tools mostly suck, and that concurrent application development requires some amount of "magical power." Today it would be almost obscene to go into an enterprise software company and suggest that they should target a reconfigurable computer with their application.

Ah, but look at the way things are headed. Multi-core processors. Virtual Machines. Interpretted web interfaces. For much of the web server market it doesn't really matter whose chip you use as long as you can support Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP. Throw in Java and you'll get a huge chunk of the enterprise market too... In fact, start with a Java VM to grab some compute intensive financial service companies. Deliver more bang for the buck in that market, and lots of people will start listening...

2 comments:

Daryl Popig said...

I agree that Reconfigurable computing will have a large effect in different areas of computing. As far as the tools go, they are improving. I have seen great strides made in just the past year. With tools now available from Impulse-C, Nallatech, and Mitrion, which the article referenced, the need to be an experienced hardware engineer and talented at writing optimized VHDL code is no longer a requirement to program FPGAs. Reconfigurable computing will find its way into more compute intensive applications as international collaborations such as OpenFPGA.org and companies like acceleratedata.com emerge to help make using FPGAs easier and less cumbersome to deal with for the end user and developers alike.

Michael Suess said...

Hmm, a Java VM on an FPGA? I seem to remember that the idea of a specialized Java processor has been tried in the past (multiple times if I remember correctly). As fas as I can tell, it never took off. You can still find some projects on Google. Therefore, I am a little sceptical...