GPGPUs and FPGAs are now fully implanted in our brains
The server booster bonanza takes hold
As mentioned, HP seems to have the most concrete programs in place to make sure these accelerator products reach customers as quickly as possible. HP has zeroed in on improving the development of multi-threaded code for both multi-core x86 chips and this more specialized silicon. In addition, it's funding and helping market some of these young, accelerator companies.
We fully expect to see HP add FPGA products from either DRC or XtremeData or both to its arsenal in 2008, complementing existing support for products from ClearSpeed and Nvidia's boxes sold through Acceleware.
As we see it, Sun follows HP in the accelerator game. Sun has done some nice work with ClearSpeed on mega-clusters and appears dialed into the work being done by Acceleware and others. The server maker has yet to develop formal programs in line with HP, but it usually takes Sun a bit longer than its rivals to polish off the marketing bits and bobs.
IBM too seems interested in all of this accelerator madness, although we can't recall one conversation with the vendor about such products. Evidence of IBM's interest mostly comes through information available on the web where you can find IBM adding products such as ClearSpeed to its pre-packaged clusters.
In all honesty, however, IBM talks to us the least of all the major - and minor - vendors, so this may just be a case of radio silence rather than disinterest on IBM's part.
Or perhaps IBM is so focused on Cell's accelerator potential that it doesn't care to promote anything else.
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As always, Dell is bringing up the rear with its cautious approach. The company will no doubt spring into action when one or all of these products really take off.
And then there's big pappa Intel which is playing a bit of catch-up in this market.
A number of the accelerator start-ups are waiting for Intel to sort out its upcoming QuickPath interconnect technology before plugging their wares right into Xeon sockets. In addition, developers are waiting, waiting and waiting for Intel to give some glimpse of its own accelerator known as Larrabee.
Nvidia's Keane told us that "Larrabee is whatever Intel wants it to be at this point," and he's right. Intel has failed to reveal anything concrete about the product at all other than to say that it will have many cores and rely on the x86 instruction set.
You can bet, however, that Intel will eventually push the product - due to arrive sometime this decade - as an easy to program accelerator.
At this time last year, we were very, very skeptical about the whole acceleration hype stream.
Friends in the high performance computing arena kept emphasizing how hard it is to develop code for all of these products be they FPGAs, GPUs or fancy IDE wrapped silicon. We were told time and again that the world simply does not have enough strong coders to deal with these products.
While the coding issues remain immense, we're now far more encouraged about the prospect of accelerators playing a meaningful role in data centers of various sizes.
The slow moving software industry - Microsoft, we're looking at you - has finally come around to the realities posed by multi-core chips from Intel and AMD. As a result, we find a significant, mainstream effort underway to craft multi-threaded software and to fund start-ups that can help with the parallelization push.
The accelerator set will benefit from this momentum, as many of the techniques needed to spread software across x86 cores carry over to multi-core, specialized silicon.
In addition, high performance computing systems continue to account for larger and larger chunks of server sales. This leads to the large vendors catering to HPC customers' needs, and what the HPC folks want more than anything is to run software as fast as possible in the hopes of gaining an edge over competitors.
During 2008, all of the major acceleration plays should have reached the point where they're viable options on a Tier 1 server vendor's price list.
We suspect this will result in a large number of new customer trials around the accelerator technology, which is both good and bad for the hype-filled vendors.
So far, the accelerator upstarts have been able to hand pick their best test cases - customers that ported their code over to a custom chip with no work at all or that saw 200x speed ups. As more customers try out this hardware, reality will start to undermine these shining examples.
Thankfully, that should help us all gauge how promising FPGAs and GPUs are as potential mainstream products. ®