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Search engine Bing turns to FPGAs for help

Posted: 13 Aug 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Bing? Baidu? Andrew Putnam? FPGA?

We'd like to give developers a feeling of putting their C++ into compiler but [compilation] is a manual process now. There's a huge need for high productivity FPGA languages.

A custom multi-core processor that Putnam 's team designed and embedded into the FPGA helps. "We gave them a middle ground between C++ and RTL where people can program," he said.

The team's first prototype was a board using six Xilinx Virtex 6 chips, but the design was rejected by the data centre group for several reasons. The team's second prototype shifted to Altera, largely because the company provided better support for what started as a Microsoft research project.

"Altera was really interesting in helping with the developmentthe resources they were willing to throw our way were more significant than those from Xilinx which was willing to troubleshoot our design," he said.

Altera engineers got the Microsoft team's code up and running on Linux a PCIe 3.0 board within two days. "A day later they had a Windows driverPCIe 3.0 has been a pain point for us," he said.

 A special embedded core

A special embedded core makes the FPGA more programmable.

Baidu runs with Xilinx

China search giant Baidu also has developed an FPGA board, accelerating at least 10 low level tasks. The data centre team found for its workloads FPGAs beat CPUs and GPUs in its key metric of performance/watt/dollar. Baidu's PCIe 2.0 card uses a Xilinx K7 480t with 4GB memory (below).

Jian Ouyang, a senior architect in Baidu's infrastructure department, presented his team's work at Hot Chips. He would not say whether the cards are actually being used in Baidu's production data centres yet.

Interestingly, the Baidu architect used to work at Microsoft research in China on FPGA issues. He agreed with Putnam about the drawbacks of FPGAs.

Developing on FPGAs is much slower than typical Internet development speeds. FPGAs are not very good at floating point computing and their memory bandwidth is lower than that of CPUs and GPUs, he said.

 Xilinx FPGA

Baidu's accelerator card uses a Xilinx FPGA.

Microsoft's Putnam said the midrange Xilinx chip Baidu uses is not that far from the Altera chip he adopted. In the end, the chip architecture is less important than the software issues, he said. "I don't think we'd have any trouble replacing Our Stratix V with an Aria 10, for example, as long as we stay in our 25W power budget," he said.

- Rick Merritt
??EE Times

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