Dell EMC and Fujitsu will put Intel FPGA accelerator cards in turn-key servers

GPUs aren't the only kinds of compute accelerators finding their way into servers these days. Field-programmable gate arrays, or FPGAs, help bridge the gap between general-purpose processors and application-specific integrated circuits. Intel announced today that major server vendors will be offering its Programmable Acceleration Cards (PACs) as configuration options for their products. The blue team says Dell EMC is ready to deploy PACs "in volume" in its PowerEdge R640, R740 and R740XD servers and that Fujitsu will offer PACs as an option in its Primergy servers.

The PAC puts one of Intel's Arria 10 GX FPGAs on a half-height, half-length PCI Express Gen3 x8 adapter card. The Arria 10 GX chip gets 8 GB of DDR4 memory to play with and 128 MB of flash for non-volatile storage, and it operates in a 60 W thermal envelope. An FPGA is nothing if one can't program it, and Intel claims it's ready to help developers fire up their workloads on those servers with its Acceleration Stack for Xeon CPUs with FPGAs. Intel says the Open Programmable Acceleration Engine, or OPAE, available as part of this stack makes it faster and easier for developers to get their ideas onto programmable logic without the headaches of low-level FPGA wrangling.

For an idea of the performance benefits available to developers looking at FPGA acceleration, Intel notes that Levyx, one of its development partners, was able to achieve "an eight-fold improvement in algorithm execution and twice the speed in options calculation compared to traditional [Apache] Spark implementations" for financial modeling workloads by using servers with PACs. Folks with lots of data to analyze and workloads amenable to FPGA acceleration will likely want to call up their Dell or Fujitsu reps for more information about servers with Intel PACs inside.

Comments closed
    • tsk
    • 2 years ago

    FPGA!

    [i<] What is it good for?[/i<] Absolutely nothing.

      • chuckula
      • 2 years ago

      [quote<]For an idea of the performance benefits available to developers looking at FPGA acceleration, Intel notes that Levyx, one of its development partners, was able to achieve "an eight-fold improvement in algorithm execution and twice the speed in options calculation compared to traditional [Apache] Spark implementations" for financial modeling workloads by using servers with PACs. [/quote<] FPGA! Huh! What is it good for? Absolutely Apache Spark.

      • Shobai
      • 2 years ago

      I imagine it’s good for proving a design before creating it in silicon.

        • NovusBogus
        • 2 years ago

        They’re used in production too. Rolling out an ASIC involves much more overhead cost and time and cannot be upgraded in the field, so if your product is low volume or you want to be able to provide long term support the FPGA makes more sense. Some of my employer’s products use them because both of those reasons apply to us.

          • Shobai
          • 2 years ago

          Hrm, must have missed that one, somehow, in my exhaustive list of use cases…

      • Voldenuit
      • 2 years ago

      “My CPU is a neural-net processor; a learning computer.” – T-800.

      • liquidsquid
      • 2 years ago

      A lot more than you may guess. I am thinking more along the lines of circuit modeling, thermal analysis, signal processing, etc.

      FPGAs are best at massive concurrent execution. Example: 100 x 1024 point FFTs performed in only a few clock cycles (depending on device density). Where an Intel CPU may be able to do however many cores it has in hundreds of thousands of clock cycles (or more) if it doesn’t have a specialized FFT core to access. FFTs are the root of many DSP and signal processing paths, so any low-latency signal processing such as video stream experimentation and development.

      It is not good for general compute and gaming, but perhaps a flexible way to mine currency.

      • albundy
      • 2 years ago

      i dont know…the credit card swiper at the end looks cool.

      • Zizy
      • 2 years ago

      Well, this is 10 years old, but still an interesting read:
      [url<]https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/4629896/?arnumber=4629896&tag=1[/url<] But essentially FPGA is now the first step after GPU isn't fast enough.

    • the
    • 2 years ago

    The more impressive thing would be if Intel would start shipping FPGAs inside their Xeon sockets. Granted there wouldn’t be as much room for large CPU dies but the boost for specific workloads would offset any loss in CPU cores. Doubly so if Intel were to ship both FPGA and fabric in package. Lots of potential that was discussed before it is difficult to get excited about a new PCIe card.

      • chuckula
      • 2 years ago

      That’s been demoed but not yet released as a commercial product.
      It would be interesting especially if they could integrate the chips more tightly with EMIB instead of just slapping PCIe lanes on a PCB.

      • DavidC1
      • 2 years ago

      They said in H2 of this year we’ll see Skylake-SP parts with FPGAs on package. They claim it improves performance 2x over not having it on package. The connections are going to be using UPI.

    • Sahrin
    • 2 years ago

    Intel spent $17B acquiring Altera only to see the players in the industry move to custom ASIC’s made at foundries.

    Whoops.

    • cynan
    • 2 years ago

    It’s about time Intel brought back the math coprocessor.

      • TheRazorsEdge
      • 2 years ago

      This is not even close to the same thing.

      Math coprocessors added support for fixed mathematical operations. Once those were integrated into the CPU, instruction set extensions started doing the same thing.

      FPGAs have their logic built by the customer. Intel is not supplying you with a functional unit that supports specific, usable instructions. They are supplying you with the ability to run “custom” hardware.

      The difference here is that you must buy or build a design for the FPGA yourself. Unlike a coprocessor, it requires very advanced skills before you can even “turn it on”. So these will remain a niche product, even among enterprise users.

        • Shobai
        • 2 years ago

        What, so basically a user would program these to do a fixed mathematical operation?

          • TheRazorsEdge
          • 2 years ago

          FPGAs are programmable, so one day you can have a Bitcoin-hashing monster, and the next day you can do high-frequency trading on the stock market.

          In practice, no one changes the [i<]purpose[/i<]. They only improve the [i<]implementation[/i<]. Imagine if Intel figured out a way to improve IEEE floating point performance by 10%. Or any other operation, for that matter. Well, the silicon cannot be changed so you have to wait until the next version of their CPU is released. With FPGAs, you can deploy custom logic and rebuild it as needed. That's the entire point. It is very difficult work, but the flexibility is very powerful if you need it--either because you expect changes over time, because you are testing/prototyping, because off-the-shelf ASICs don't do what you need, or because custom ASICs are not feasible for your usage.

            • Shobai
            • 2 years ago

            Mate, I understand that you’re excited about this topic, I was just trying to point out that you’ve missed the forest for the tree.

          • Zizy
          • 2 years ago

          Afaik vast majority of FPGA use is to program them to do a fixed mathematical operation. Reconfigure when algorithm changes slightly.

          But some use of FPGA is (was?) also to reprogram the chip at runtime, and this enables you to do stuff that isn’t feasible to do without an FPGA.

        • psuedonymous
        • 2 years ago

        [quote<]FPGAs have their logic built by the customer. Intel is not supplying you with a functional unit that supports specific, usable instructions. They are supplying you with the ability to run "custom" hardware.[/quote<]Actually, Intel IS trying to supply you with a unit that supports a specific instruction st, as long as you are using their [url=https://www.hpcwire.com/2017/09/05/intel-launches-software-tools-address-fpga-programming-challenge/<]Acceleration stack[/url<]. The idea is that rather than writing VHDL (or Verilog or whatever) you instead write code for an instruction set, which then talks to the FPGA running whatever is required to implement those instructions. Think of it akin to writing for Compute Shaders in the GPGPU world, but implemented in hardware. The idea is you can port code more easily between different FPGA architectures or even fixed-function units.

          • TheRazorsEdge
          • 2 years ago

          So you write to their stack API, and the tools automatically generate appropriate logic on the FPGA. That is easier than the standard FPGA use case, but the end result is the same—a niche product, even among businesses.

          Making FPGAs more accessible will expand their reach, but I do not expect to see this in consumer products for the foreseeable future. Any functionality necessary to the consumer market will still be integrated into traditional CPUs/GPUs.

    • chuckula
    • 2 years ago

    Yes Intel, they’re very pretty.

    But tell me.

    Can they mine?

      • ColeLT1
      • 2 years ago

      The future of ASICs are FPGAs, no more forks bricking hardware haha (/s)

      • Wirko
      • 2 years ago

      They might be useful for HFT, so yes — other people’s money.

      • TheRazorsEdge
      • 2 years ago

      ASICs are always more efficient than their competing FPGAs, so it depends on your expectations.

      If you know you are going to mine a particular coin, you are best served by ASICs specifically optimized for that usage.

      If you want to work with multiple coins or respond to changes in the market, you’re better off with FPGAs.

      This assumes you can reprogram them when you feel like it. It may not be free or easy to switch out the logic optimized for Bitcoin in favor of logic built for Ethereum. Somewhere along the line, an electrical engineer has to do some heavy lifting. If the FPGA is sold specifically for miners, I would expect some level of manufacturer support. If it is sold in dedicated mining systems, then you could expect the integrator to supply the designs. Otherwise, I would expect nothing.

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