FPGA Project Catapult processor will potentially power all of the Microsoft Services

Nearly four years ago in a room filled with the then Microsoft head honcho Steve Ballmer and Burger, a computer chip researcher was filled with ideas. Doug Burger pitched the idea of a reprogrammable chip, an idea that Ballmer couldn’t buy since he harbored the notion that Microsoft just needs to focus on the software front while the partners will build the hardware for the computer.

REDMOND, WASHINGTON - JULY 17: A building on the Microsoft Headquarters campus is pictured July 17, 2014 in Redmond, Washington. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced, July 17, that Microsoft will cut 18,000 jobs, the largest layoff in the company's history. (Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

Doug Burger was not a man to give up so easily and he further strengthened his vision by explaining Ballmer how Google and Amazon were already progressing on this idea and if Microsoft didn’t catch up soon enough they will be left behind in the race. The idea was seconded by Qi Lu who is the person behind Microsoft’s Bing search engine.

Called the Project Catapult, the chips consisted of programmable gate arrays which will eventually drive new search algorithms on deep neural networks. The chip will also mean that Ai will be executed much faster than ordinary chips. The FPGA’s also run Azure, Microsoft cloud computing solution.

It is likely that every Microsoft server will come with an FPGA (Field-Programmable Gate Array) and will include millions of machines globally.

Burger was quoted saying,

“This gives us the massive capacity and enormous flexibility, and the economics work,” he further added that “This is now Microsoft’s standard, worldwide architecture.”

Project Catapult is something huge and it will decide how global systems will operate in the future and all of the Internet giants will be using their very own standard server chips with alternative silicon that can match its pace with the changes in AI.

The problem for project catapult was when Azure executives didn’t really focus on improvising the machine learning capability and instead they needed to leverage Project Catapult for their networking need. This meant putting the programmable chips right where each server is connected to the primary network so that they could process the traffic before it reaches the server. All of this meant one thing, the Catapult team had to rebuild the hardware and this was an ordeal. The use case for the chips has been extended to almost every Microsoft product.

Despite being tough to reprogram the chips still result in an estimated 30 percent lesser cost, 10 percent less power consumption and processes data 2x faster. This is a good enough reason for the FPGA chips to power the entire Microsoft Service line-up in the near future.

Read more about it on Microsoft Research.

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Mahit Huilgol has been using Windows on PC and Mobile since long. He has been following Microsoft developments from close quarters and loves writing about it.