FHPCA Forms to Develop the Next Generation of Supercomputers

5/27/2005 - The FHPCA (FPGA High Performance Computing Alliance) was launched in Edinburgh. The group comprises of leading technology companies, academics and the public sector who will work together over the next two years to design and build a 64 node FPGA based super computer, capable of achieving processing speeds in excess of 1 Teraflop. The computer will be built using commercial off the shelf technology from alliance members. To demonstrate the system’s power and flexibility the alliance will then select and port, three existing super computer applications from science and industry, these applications will be selected in June 2005.

The new supercomputer, which will be the most powerful of its type in the world, will be owned and operated by the world renowned EPCC (Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre) at the University of Edinburgh. Visiting researchers will be able to arrange access to the FHPCA system for three month research programmes via the EPPC, during which time they will be supported by members of the Alliance to port their applications to the system.

During the programme the alliance will be funding six EngD studentships and will develop “tool kits” for FPGA based high performance computing, together with a body of intellectual property which will be made available for licence. Currently few standards exist to guide engineers developing FPGA based computer systems, so by collaborating in this development the technology partners expect to be able to increase the interoperability and accessibility of their technology to engineers and scientists.

A key aim of the project is enabling new and existing applications to benefit from the advantages of FPGA Computing. The Alliance will be a catalyst for knowledge transfer by appointing a Technology Translator acting as a bridge between the technology experts and the application community. The Alliance will also provide expertise to allow companies to develop the new skills necessary to embrace the technology and create materials to train the Electronic Design Engineers and Computer Scientists to be able to apply the knowledge created by the project.

The £3.6million budget for the project is provided by the alliance members and Scottish Enterprise who have contributed £1.345 million.

Enterprise Minister Jim Wallace:
"If the Executive is to achieve its key aim of continuing to grow Scotland's economy we need to encourage effective collaboration between industry and academia, to develop new technological products and to explore new markets.

"The High Performance Computing Alliance is an excellent example of this type of successful partnership working – bringing together some of the world's leading computing experts to develop truly groundbreaking technology which will place Scotland at the forefront of microelectronic innovation and design.

"The Supercomputer that the Alliance is creating will have far-reaching benefits in areas such as life sciences, climate change and games technology, and ultimately generate new knowledge and wealth for Scotland."

Chief Executive of Scottish Enterprise Edinburgh and Lothian, Jim McFarlane said: “The development of high performance computing technology is on the cusp of the most significant advance since large clusters of PC servers replaced giant mainframe computers. Scotland has a strong presence in the technology underpinning reconfigurable computing and we are determined to exploit the window of opportunity our expertise offers.” He continued, “We have brought together the best in world to collaborate on this project which will place us at the forefront of the implementation of a technology whose time has come. It is an exciting programme that will help transform indigenous Scottish companies into major global players of scale in this field, while creating significant added value to the economy.”

About the FHPCA partners
The FPGA High Performance Computing Alliance was founded by:

Algotronix, based in Edinburgh, is the leading UK supplier of technical due diligence on semiconductor and semiconductor intellectual property (IP) companies. Founders Dr Tom Kean and Professor John Gray are world experts in FPGA and semiconductor design and built the world’s first commercial reconfigurable computer, the Algotronix CHS2X4, in 1991.

Alpha Data
Based in Edinburgh and San Jose, California, Alpha Data was set up in 1993 to provide state-of-the-art solutions for compute-intensive applications. The company uses the largest and fastest FPGAs on the market to design and build high-performance systems for customers including Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Motorola and BAe. The company, with a growing international reputation, is now at the leading edge of the new wave of re-configurable computing used in various sectors of the Electronics industry. Alpha Data recently received The Sunday Times award for the most innovative unquoted technical company in the UK.

Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre (EPCC)
Founded at the University of Edinburgh in 1990, EPCC is the largest high performance computing centre in Europe and manages Europe’s biggest Supercomputer, called HPCx. By using high-performance computers to model and investigate the natural world, the centre specialises in analysing real-world problems for clients in academia, industry, commerce and government.

The Institute for System Level Integration (ISLI)
Based at the Alba Centre in Livingston, ISLI is a unique collaboration between Edinburgh, Glasgow, Heriot-Watt, and Strathclyde universities and has links to Lancaster University. Founded in 1998, it is the world’s first centre of excellence for postgraduate education and research in the methodology and applications of system-on-chip design, system level integration and related technologies.

Nallatech has been delivering innovative high-performance FPGA computing solutions to global blue-chip companies for over a decade. Founded by Allan Cantle in 1993, the company has brought to market 50 products and exported 90% of products. With 1000 installations worldwide, Nallatech specialises in large infrastructure applications for clients in the aerospace, military, communications, imaging and scientific computing sectors. Headquartered in Scotland with Nallatech Inc as a US subsidiary, the company's award-winning technology combined with unrivalled industry expertise has ensured a steady stream of multi-million dollar contracts.

Based in San Jose, California, and valued at more than $10 billion on Nasdaq, Xilinx pioneered the development of FPGA processors and is one of the world’s biggest suppliers of programmable logic devices. It designs, develops and markets a range of advanced integrated circuits, software design tools and intellectual property. Founded Xilinx in 1984, Xilinx also pioneered the “fabless” model of manufacturing semiconductors by outsourcing everything but design, marketing and support function.

FPGA computing primer
FPGA based computing is an emerging technology, currently used for leading edge applications, such as military signal processing, high speed machine vision and bioinformatics where the processing demands of the applications are difficult to meet using conventional microprocessor based technology.

FPGA based computers are by their nature massively parallel, performing many calculations per clock cycle and are able to achieve very high data throughput as FPGA chips are typically able to dedicate many more pins to Input/Output than a microprocessor.

There is growing interest in FPGA based high performance computing for applications such as Genomics, Seismic Processing and Large scale simulations where existing microprocessor based solutions demand space, power and money which mean few users can have the computing power that they require.

Dr. Malachy Devlin, Chief Technology Officer of Nallatech said, "FPGAs have continuously improved and matured in the last few years and have demonstrated their superiority in processing performance. The complementary expertise of this Alliance will produce and demonstrate the advantages that FPGA computing technology can offer real-world applications. FPGAs will be a key driver in the high-performance processing roadmap of the future. The objectives of the Alliance will create new knowledge to benefit HPC users and increase the understanding and awareness of this new technology."

Mark Parsons, EPCC Commercial Director, said the project would build on Scotland’s world-class reputation in the field of FPGA based computers which were invented in Scotland in the 1980’s: “This is a fantastic Scottish technology that was developed here and is being exploited by Scottish companies,” he said.

“What’s really exciting about this project is that no-one’s ever tried to build a big Supercomputer with these chips before. People are always thinking up interesting designs, but the Supercomputer we’ve come up with is an absolutely unique system. We’re trying to join a whole lot of these high-performance chips together so we can tackle very large and complex problems. It’s a real opportunity for Scotland to take the lead in a hugely exciting area.”

Tony Harker – Director of the Institute for System Level Integration said “The Institute is delighted to be participating in this exciting project and to enable applications companies to embrace and take advantage of the technology through our Engineering Doctorate program. Reconfigurable computing has been a strong interest of ours and we see this as an important technology for the future of system design.”

Dr Tom Kean of Algotronix said “Algotronix is very pleased to contribute its expertise to this project which will help preserve and extend Scotland’s leadership in FPGA based computing technologies.”

Patrick Lysaght (Senior Director Xilinx Research Labs and Xilinx University Program) notes that “the use of FPGAs in high performance computing brings superior performance for many important classes of problems. The key to this improvement is to use arrays of FPGAs instead of older architectures based on sequential computers. The natural concurrency of the algorithms can be best exploited by mapping them to FPGAs with all the advantages of highly specialized data paths, customized memory interfaces and optimized interconnection topologies. The tremendous flexibility of Xilinx FPGAs makes it possible to create a custom computing environment for each class of problem.”

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