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Intel unveils hybrid Xeon and FPGA server chip for cloud data centers

Integrated FPGA can dynamically configure Xeon processors for specific workloads
Fri Jun 20 2014, 08:44
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INTEL HAS ANNOUNCED that it is marrying its Xeon architecture with a customisable logic block in a single-chip package, which is destined for cloud data centers.

Announced at the Gigaom Structure 2014 conference, the new offering - which is as yet unnamed - pairs up an Intel Xeon E5 processor with a field-programmable gate array (FPGA) inside the same chip package, so it can drop into a standard server motherboard. The significance of the FPGA is that it can be configured as a custom accelerator for specific applications and workloads.

Speaking at the event, senior vice president for Intel's Data Center Group, Diane Bryant, said the firm had delivered 15 custom products in 2013 to meet the needs of large customers such as eBay and Facebook, but that its portfolio is growing, with more than twice that number of products planned for 2014.

Intel said that while FPGA-based accelerators can deliver performance gains of at least 10 times, integrating the FPGA with the Xeon processor should mean customers will see an additional doubling in performance because of the close coupling between the two.

"The FPGA provides our customers a programmable, high-performance coherent acceleration capability to turbo-charge their critical algorithms. And with down-the-wire reprogrammability, the algorithms can be changed as new workloads emerge and compute demands fluctuate," Bryant said.

However, Intel declined to state exactly when the Xeon with FPGA silicon would be available, with Bryant saying only that it would ship "within a year".

Intel also declined to say how much these custom solutions will cost when compared with a standard Xeon chip, but this kind of technology appears to be aimed at large internet-based firms for whom getting the most compute performance is key to their success.

"When the data centre is your business, that is your business, you're going to invest to make it run as efficiently as possible. That's your top line and your bottom line results, getting the most performance for the lowest cost of operations," Bryant said. µ


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