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Video: What FPGAs Are and Why They Matter

Learn more about hardware accelerations and FPGAs at the next Content Delivery Summit.

Watch Brent Yates's presentation, Changing the Economics of Streaming Delivery: Full-Stack Cloud Services Using Specialized Hardware Acceleration, on the Streaming Media Conference Video Portal.

Read the complete transcript from this video:

Brent Yates: Let me briefly talk about the different types of hardware acceleration. You're probably already used to the ones in the upper left, which are a CPU and a GPU. Those are software-driven pieces of hardware that do task. And within those blocks are specialized hardware. GPU, obviously, has specialized hardware to do graphics processing and lately to do AI processing.

But even inside your CPUs over the years, Intel has added more and more specialized hardware to do certain functionalities like floating point, or encryption, AES encryption. The problem is that you don't have any control over what those blocks are. You just have to wait on them to add them.

At the far right end is an Application Specific Integrated Circuit . Think of it as something like NIC, a network card or a RAID controller. It does one thing and it does it very well and it's very efficient. That NIC or that RAID controller can never be anything other than a NIC or RAID controller. It can't be a GPU. T

hen you have that strange thing in the middle: the Field-Programmable Gate Array. That's the chip I want to focus on because it's a piece of specialized hardware that can be a NIC or a RAID controller or a GPU or a CPU. It can be all of those; it's up to you to decide what you want it to be.

An FPGA is basically a big sea of gates. It doesn't do anything until you program it to be a specific type of hardware, but it gives you a lot of flexibility.

The problem is that flexibility comes at a great cost. They're very hard to use, takes a long time to gain the skills to do it. What we need to do is have an FPGA that provides services that regular software people can use, but doesn't require specialized teams of people to build it.

FPGAs are big business. They're not unusual, and you're going to see them more and more in the future. Microsoft is using FPGAs on every single server they put on their Azure network. They've already realized that they need that hardware flexibility and that acceleration. Amazon provides FPGAs in their F1 clusters for people to use. In 2015, Intel bought Altera, the second largest FPGA vendor, for $17 billion, specifically to push FPGAs into the data center. Xilinx, the current largest FPGA manufacturer, has recently published what they think it's a $6.6 billion market for FPGAs in the data center.

So this is not a piece of technology that's going away. It's a piece of technology that you're going to see more and more. And we, like Microsoft, believe that it's going to become a core part of every server put out at the edge, for the reason that it's your only way to get those massive gains on performance.

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