FPGAs get simpler, smarter, stronger – see them in the ATC

Customizable field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) have long provided data centers with a range of advantages including maximizing compute capacity and reducing TCO, but they’ve also had a reputation for complexity. Now, Intel® has introduced a new generation of FPGA technology that’s simpler and more affordable to deploy across a world of innovative applications.

A day in the life of a data center

Watch this two-minute Intel®-created video to learn more about FPGAs.

For decades, FPGAs have been highly valued for their flexible ability to be dynamically reprogrammed with a data path that exactly matches any given workload, including data analytics, image inference, encryption and compression. With these versatile silicon devices, you can provision faster processing, more power efficiency and lower latency services, which reduces your total cost of ownership while maximizing compute capacity within the power, physical space and cooling constraints of your data center.

And yet, FPGAs often are perceived as complex, requiring a deeper domain expertise to program than a typical IT staff might possess. All of that is now changing with the introduction of new Intel® FGPA technologies that offer fast deployment and standardization through Intel® Programmable Acceleration Cards (PACs) and the Intel® Acceleration Stack. This significant advancement in acceleration solutions simplifies the technology and removes the barriers to entry for customers, opening up a range of use cases.

WWT is working with Intel® and leading providers of acceleration solutions to develop, install and demonstrate these new technologies in our Advanced Technology Center (ATC). The ATC provides a brief look into what makes these new technologies unique, along with three use cases from among the many examples WWT can provide.

Advantages for AI, analytics, cybersecurity and more

Doing away with field-programmable complexity, the Intel® Acceleration Stack for Intel Xeon® CPU with FPGAs simplifies the development flow, enabling rapid deployment across the data center. The Stack comprises a multifaceted array of software, firmware, and tools that simplify FPGA development and deployment to optimize data center workloads.

Another key component of Intel’s® approach to FPGAs, is its family of PCIe-based FPGA programmable acceleration cards (Intel® FPGA PACs). Supported by the acceleration stack, these PACs are qualified and validated. Intel’s® array of new FPGA technologies offers WWT customers clear advantages worth exploring:

  • Ease of deployment, with FPGAs available on validated servers from leading OEMs
  • Standardized interfaces that IT teams can use to hot-swap accelerators and enable application portability
  • A portfolio of accelerator solutions from Intel® and third-party providers to speed specialized deployments for specific applications

Here are a few examples of innovative FPGA applications you can see right now in the ATC.

Use case 1 – rENIAC: Transforming databases for AI and the data-driven economy

A consistent pain point expressed by so many WWT customers is feeling hard-pressed to manage exploding data volumes without compromising performance. But as workloads encompass artificial intelligence (AI) model training, neural network inference, video and imaging, and millisecond transaction speeds, IT organizations are hitting a performance wall. Simply adding more DRAM becomes an impractical, expensive fix.

For instance, the Apache Cassandra NoSQL database is a widely used solution for managing database traffic across multiple commodity servers, with its high write throughput and ability to scale linearly. But even Cassandra has its limits when processing transactional and AI applications.

To address that challenge, WWT has deployed a solution with rENIAC in the ATC that provides an “intermediary” layer between Cassandra clients and database nodes, moving storage closer to the network through intelligent caching. Even more important, it incorporates the acceleration capabilities of Intel® FPGA PACs, which enable rENIAC to achieve high performance and throughput while minimizing latency in highly demanding workload environments.

The result: increased acceleration, lower latency and improved TCO – simplifying AI adoption.

Use case 2 – Swarm64: Accelerated analytics for real-time workloads

Data imposes ever-greater burdens on the IT infrastructure — from maintaining high availability and readily accessible storage to performing enterprise-class analytics in near-real-time. Getting everything to work together is the responsibility of relational databases and SQL. But the reality is, current relational databases aren’t up to the task of processing large volumes of high-velocity data within those near-real-time requirements.

WWT has installed a use case in the ATC employing the Swarm64 accelerated data analytics (S64DA) solution, a powerful add-on to PostgresSQL, that works with leading database and storage applications and uses the latest generation of Intel® FPGAs to accelerate performance dramatically for analytics applications and demanding workloads. Intel® FPGAs increase I/O throughput and reduces the amount of data and the number of operations that the CPU needs to process, enabling IT to process large volumes of high-velocity data while eliminating the risks and costs inherent in introducing new IT systems.

Thanks in large measure to Intel® FPGAs, Swarm64’s rapid analytics on large datasets allow customers to take decisive action quickly in time-sensitive situations such as threat detection, customer conversion, and predictive maintenance.

Use case 3 – Napatech: More responsive cybersecurity and network monitoring

General-purpose data center architectures are adequate for some deployments, but not all: cybersecurity and network monitoring, for example, can create workloads that require lots of compute power in a hurry. For those instances, a standard-issue network interface card might not be good enough, resulting in a critical packet loss, degraded performance and potentially costly consequences.

To address that challenge, WWT has deployed a use case with Napatech Link Capture Software running on an Intel® FPGA Programmable Acceleration Card (Intel® FPGA PAC) which we believe can make a difference, accelerating today’s leading cybersecurity and networking applications. Napatech relieves the server’s Intel® Xeon® processor cores of their heaviest compute tasks, returning valuable processing resources to business apps and services. The result: significant performance advantages beyond the capabilities of standard NIC deployment.

No special hardware is required — with Intel® FPGA PACs and Napatech Link Capture Software, IT staff can achieve more effective cybersecurity and networking application capabilities on standard servers at a fraction of the cost of custom infrastructure alternatives. And, the Napatech solution is validated by benchmarks for a full spectrum of third-party, commercial, and open-source, Linux-based networking and cybersecurity applications.

See WWT FPGAs now in the ATC

WWT and Intel® together are taking the complexity out of FPGAs, and in the process, helping to open up a world of new use cases. In addition to those highlighted above, other use case partners we are working with include:

  • Accelerated genome sequencing from Falcon Computing Software using Intel® Arria® 10 FPGAs
  • Financial management for peak performance using the Levyx Risk Analytics Acceleration Framework with Intel® FPGAs and Intel® Optane™ SSDs
  • Image processing improvements from CTAccel Image Processor running on an Intel® FPGA
  • Advanced real-time analytics using FPGAs, from Megh Computing

Today, there’s only one place in the world where you can see a demonstration and do an evaluation of these innovative solutions on Intel® FPGA PACs: WWT’s Advanced Technology Center. The ATC can even come to you: WWT has the remote capability to demonstrate these and other game-changing technologies and use cases to customers anywhere in the world.

It’s just one more example of WWT leading the way, working with partner ecosystems on a global scale, and taking the complexity out of FPGAs to open up a world of new opportunities. And we’re no where near finished – stay tuned for more success stories with Intel® FPGAs in the near future.

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