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Project Catapult servers available to academic researchers

November 12, 2015 | Posted by Microsoft Research Blog

By Derek Chiou, Partner Architect, Microsoft

In collaboration with the University of Texas and Altera, Project Catapult servers are open to academic researchers

At this year’s Supercomputing 2015 Conference in Austin, Texas, Microsoft is announcing the availability of Project Catapult clusters to academic researchers through the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) at The University of Texas at Austin. Project Catapult, a Microsoft research venture, offers a groundbreaking way to vastly improve the performance and energy efficiency of datacenter workloads.

Catapult board with Altera FPGA

Catapult board with Altera FPGA

Project Catapult uses standard Microsoft datacenter servers—each augmented with field-programmable gate array (FPGA). While standard chips have their gates permanently etched onto the silicon, FPGA gates are implemented in such a way that their functionality can be changed on the fly. Therefore, FPGAs provide programmable logic that can be tailored to individual applications.

Using FPGAs in the datacenter can dramatically accelerate performance and reduce power consumption, while holding the line on cost. For example, in work described in our ISCA 2014 paper, Catapult doubled the throughput of Bing’s search-result ranking with a less than 30 percent increase in cost—thus delivering substantial savings. Project Catapult ushers in a new datacenter architecture that marries programmable software with efficient and low-power programmable hardware at scale.

In the video below, Microsoft Researcher Doug Burger discusses the technology and potential of Catapult.

Project Catapult uses Altera FPGAs, many of which have been donated by Altera to the academic program. Mario Maccariello, business development manager in Altera’s computer and storage unit, echoes our excitement about the project. “The FPGA-based servers will demonstrate to students, scientists, and the industry in general how datacenters can provide increased performance, while being greener and reducing power consumption compared with traditional architectures.”

TACC will be giving tours of their massive facility during Supercomputing 2015, allowing attendees to view the Project Catapult servers on site. In addition, we will demo Project Catapult in the Microsoft booth throughout the week, so stop by to see how this reconfigurable fabric can bring improved performance and efficiency to the datacenter.

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