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Bare Metal Blog: FPGAs - The Benefits and Risks
The use of FPGAs, the risks, trade-offs, and benefits to IT

I was talking with the team working on our yard – they’re putting in new sidewalks and a patio, amongst other things – and we got on the subject of gutters. When we bought this house, it came with no gutters, and that has, over time, caused some serious damage to the base of the house. Wood and plaster do not take it well when water pours down on them at the rate that, oh, say melting snow in the spring sends it down. So I had them get us an estimate for gutters on the entire house. Some of the work they’re estimating is running the gutters right to the storm drain, which is not normally cheap, but they had both the front and back yards all ripped up, so it is a good time to do it, both cheaper and less messy, since the mess is already there.

imageSo I told them to do it, because I don’t want the sod they’re going to lay to be ripped up in a year when we decide to put the gutters on, and certainly don’t want them to rip up the patio and sidewalks they’re putting in now just to lay pipe later – that would be nearly impossible.

And that, in a nutshell, is the same reason why FPGAs are used in a lot of high-tech firms. If the device is my yard/sidewalks, and I have to choose between a custom ASIC versus an FPGA, the custom ASIC would require me to rip up the yard later, while the FPGA is planning ahead for change.

Sidewalk with pipes under itLet me explain. With an FPGA, the circuits are programmed. Not like software, but code sets up the circuits, and then they are pretty equivalent to having them be hard-wired. With an ASIC, they really are hard-wired. So six months later, a change to the system – be it added functionality or fixes to existing logic – will be far easier with an FPGA than an ASIC. With an FPGA, the design file is opened, the changes made and tested, then the config is compiled and delivered to manufacturing. At that point, the devices produced with the new config file will have the new functionality. With ASICs, you change the design, send it to a manufacturing shop, wait for the shop to produce a small run (working it into their schedule that is), test the result, and then do a full production run. Then the new ASIC has to be put on the assembly line to replace the old ASIC. The difference is astronomical in terms of time required and even more so in terms of cost.

Of course there are some trade-offs. Every architectural choice results in trade-offs, and anyone who tells you differently is indeed trying to sell you something, and they don’t want to admit the trade-offs used to produce what they’re selling.

One of the big concerns out there about FPGAs is that they’re less secure. In the most vague, general sense, this is true. But in practical use scenarios, it most certainly isn’t. Here are the concerns, and why they’re over-rated (note that these notes are adapted from responses to my questions put to Clint Harames of F5<’s most excellent FPGA team, I cannot vouch for other production except to say the other teams I was involved with outside of F5 were similar):

  • It’s field programmable! What if it gets modified? In F5’s case, none of the programmability is accessible from the outside. There is no Ethernet or coding hack that can reprogram it, because that functionality is not accessible. Other vendors work to a differing standard, so definitely worth checking, though I would remind you that it is almost never going to be as easy to hack an FPGA as it is to hack software or COTS hardware.
  • Okay, but can’t it be erased and destroy the device? In theory yes (though erasing it is only effective until the next boot – non-destructive, so-to-speak), but if “modify” functionality is not accessible, then it can’t be erased easily. The caveat is that there is of course a reset pin on the chip, but if the ne’er-do-well has physical access to your device, time to disassemble the device, and a handy pinout for the FPGA chip you’re using, I’m going to guess you have bigger problems than whether they can reset your FPGA.
  • If it’s programmable, can’t the program be read out and modified? Again, that functionality can be enabled on the chip, and you can check with your device manufacturer to see if they leave it enabled for production devices. Remember, it is a twofold story here, in F5’s case, we don’t generally want to reprogram production devices and don’t want to make reverse engineering our product any easier than it has to be, while we want to protect you from someone modifying a production device. So when the design is done and meets all test criteria, we at F5 turn access to this functionality off completely before shipping product is produced. Definitely worth checking with your vendor to find out what they are doing.

Again, your vendor may do things differently, if, for some reason they need the ability to reprogram the FPGA in your device.

For you, the IT staffer, the benefits are pretty straight-forward. The device you purchase will be closer to “up to date” because of the time-to-market benefits of FPGAs, it will be cheaper because of the reduced up-front costs (note that like everything involving costs, economies of scale can change the “cheaper” part to be untrue, depending upon the costs involved), and the resulting device will be far, far faster than the equivalent processing done on a general purpose CPU. In the end, it is hardware doing the processing, and FPGAs have concurrency that general purpose CPUs can only match with a huge number of cores, even then since the OS handles the scheduling on a general purpose CPU, many cores does not normally make up the performance difference.

There are some who think the advent of virtualization and virtualized appliances should curb the use of FPGAs, as the virtual version has to include all the functionality. While this is, on the surface, a reasonable argument, it has a flaw. FPGAs are MUCH faster than software will ever be, let alone a VM running on a host with who-knows-how-many other VMs sharing its resources. So in cases like F5, where there is a hardware and a software version, the key is to be able to run in both. TMOS, F5’s OS for traffic management, uses hardware if available, software if not. This offers the best of both worlds – acceptable traffic management in a VM, and high-performance traffic management in hardware.

Next time I’ll delve into specific functionality that on our hardware platforms is implemented in FPGA, and how that helps you do your job in IT, today was more of a “what are the risks, what are the benefits” in a generic sense.

Read the original blog entry...

About Don MacVittie
Don MacVittie is founder of Ingrained Technology, A technical advocacy and software development consultancy. He has experience in application development, architecture, infrastructure, technical writing,DevOps, and IT management. MacVittie holds a B.S. in Computer Science from Northern Michigan University, and an M.S. in Computer Science from Nova Southeastern University.

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Cloud Expo - Cloud Looms Large on SYS-CON.TV


Cloud Expo 2013 East Opening Keynote by IBM
In this Cloud Expo Keynote, Danny Sabbah, CTO & General Manager, Next Generation Platform, will detail the critical architectural considerations and success factors organizations must internalize to successfully implement, optimize and innovate using next generation architectures.
Lisa Larson, Vice President of Enterprise Cloud Solutions of Rackspace Hosting Live From New York City
In the old world of IT, if you didn't have hardware capacity or the budget to buy more, your project was dead in the water. Budget constraints can leave some of the best, most creative and most ingenious innovations on the cutting room floor. It's a true dilemma for developers and innovators – why spend the time creating, when a project could be abandoned in a blink? That was the old world. In the new world of IT, developers rule. They have access to resources they can spin up instantly. A hybrid cloud ignites innovation and empowers developers to focus on what they need. A hybrid cloud blends the best of all worlds, public cloud, private cloud and dedicated servers to fit the needs of developers and offer the ideal environment for each app and workload without the constraints of a one-size-fits-all cloud.

Keynote: Driving Cloud Innovation: SSDs Change Cloud Storage Paradigm
Cloud is a transformational shift in computing that can have a powerful effect on enterprise IT when designed correctly and used to its full potential. Join Citrix in a discussion that centers on building, connecting and empowering users with cloud services and hear examples of how enterprises are solving real-world business challenges with an architecture and solution purpose-built for the cloud.

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Many organizations want to expand upon the IaaS foundation to deliver cloud services in all forms—software, mobility, infrastructure and IT. Understanding the strategy, planning process and tools for this transformation will help catalyze changes in the way the business operates and deliver real value. Join us to learn about the new ITaaS model and how to begin the transformation.


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DevOps is often described as a combination of technology and culture. Without both, DevOps isn't complete. However, applying the culture to outdated technology is a recipe for disaster; as response times grow and connections between teams are delayed by technology, the culture will die. A Nutanix Enterprise Cloud has many benefits that provide the needed base for a true DevOps paradigm. In his Day 3 Keynote at 20th Cloud Expo, Chris Brown, a Solutions Marketing Manager at Nutanix, will explore t...
In recent years, containers have taken the world by storm. Companies of all sizes and industries have realized the massive benefits of containers, such as unprecedented mobility, higher hardware utilization, and increased flexibility and agility; however, many containers today are non-persistent. Containers without persistence miss out on many benefits, and in many cases simply pass the responsibility of persistence onto other infrastructure, adding additional complexity.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cloudistics, an on-premises cloud computing company, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Cloudistics delivers a complete public cloud experience with composable on-premises infrastructures to medium and large enterprises. Its software-defined technology natively converges network, storage, compute, virtualization, and management into a ...
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SYS-CON Events announced today that Addteq will exhibit at SYS-CON's DevOps Summit at Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Addteq specializes in creating innovative solutions to solve business processes through the use of DevOps automation. Addteq was founded on the firm belief that automation is essential for successful software releases. Addteq's products and services are centered around the fundamental approach of understanding the pr...
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SYS-CON Events announced today that Juniper Networks (NYSE: JNPR), an industry leader in automated, scalable and secure networks, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Juniper Networks challenges the status quo with products, solutions and services that transform the economics of networking. The company co-innovates with customers and partners to deliver automated, scalable and secure network...
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Top Stories for Cloud Expo 2012 East

In this CEO Power Panel at the 10th International Cloud Expo, moderated by Cloud Expo Conference Chair Jeremy Geelan, David Canellos, President and CEO of PerspecSys; Lawrence Guillory, CEO of Racemi; John Keagy, Founder, Chairman and CEO of GoGrid; Treb Ryan, Co-Founder & CEO of OpSource; Joe Weinman, Sr. VP of Cloud Services & Strategy at Telx; Jeff Newlin, Vice President and General Manager of OutSystems North America; and Darryl Brown, CMO at Appcore discussed such topics as: Is it just wishful thinking to depict the Cloud as more than just a technology solution? If not, then what concrete examples best demonstrate cloud computing as an engine of business value? ... (more)

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We live in a world that requires us to compete on our differential use of time and information, yet only a fraction of information workers today have access to the analytical capabilities they need to make better decisions. Now, with the advent of a new generation of embedded business intelligence (BI) platforms, cloud developers are disrupting the world of analytics. They are using these new BI platforms to inject more intelligence into the applications business people use every day. As a result, data-driven decision-making is finally on track to become the rule, not the exception.
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New York City Expo Floor Plan Revealed
Cloud Expo New York
[June 11-14, 2012]

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Introducing Big Data Expo
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There is little doubt that Big Data solutions will have an increasing role in the Enterprise IT mainstream over time. Get a jump on that rapidly evolving trend at Big Data Expo, which we are introducing in June at
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Testimonials
Cloud Expo was a fantastic event for CSS Corp - we easily exceeded our objectives for engaging with clients and prospects."
AHMAR ABBAS
SVP, Global Infrastructure Management, CSS Corp.
 
With our launch at Cloud Expo, we successfully transformed the company from a relatively unknown European player into the dominant player in the market. Our competitors were taken by surprise and just blown away. We got a huge number of really high quality leads..."
PETE MALCOLM
CEO, Abiquo
 
We were extremely pleased with Cloud Expo this year - I’d say it exceeded expectations all around. This is the same info we got from partners who attended as well. Nice job!"
MARY BASS
Director of Marketing, UnivaUD
 
Cloud Expo helps focus the debate on the critical issues at hand in effect connecting main street with the next frontier."

GREG O’CONNOR
President & CEO, Appzero


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Senior Technologists including CIOs, CTOs, VPs of technology, IT directors and managers, network and storage managers, network engineers, enterprise architects, communications and networking specialists, directors of infrastructure Business Executives including CEOs, CMOs, CIOs, presidents, VPs, directors, business development; product and purchasing managers.


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@CloudExpo Blogs
As today’s businesses increasingly turn to the cloud to run their operations, seasoned enterprise technology professionals may recognize a familiar pattern. Years ago, virtualization emerged as a transformational technology with a similar pattern of business drivers; initially the promise of significant cost savings justified deployments. Just as virtualization evolved from a tactical cost-saving technology into a corporate strategy enabling enterprises to be responsive to changing business demands, cloud computing is following a similar path.
With billions of sensors deployed worldwide, the amount of machine-generated data will soon exceed what our networks can handle. But consumers and businesses will expect seamless experiences and real-time responsiveness. What does this mean for IoT devices and the infrastructure that supports them? More of the data will need to be handled at - or closer to - the devices themselves.
Choosing a programming framework for a small business can be overwhelming– there are so many. Here are a few of the best choices, to help you get started. Ask a room of ten developers which programming framework is the ‘best on the market,' and you're liable to receive ten different answers. Each developer will sing the praises of a different language, and each one will very probably feel that theirs is the only logical choice. The most confusing thing, though? Each and every one of those developers will be correct.
Electric utility companies promoting power conservation programs discovered that simply informing consumers of their electricity usage relative to neighbors lowered overall consumption. This type of normative social comparison has produced the same effects in other domains. Why does this work? How can the idea be used in Customer Success?
When a person has clogged arteries it restricts and reduces the flow of oxygen rich blood through their body. Clogged arteries also greatly increase the risk of strokes, heart attacks and even death. In the digital age the equivalent of oxygen rich blood for organizations is the data running through an information logistics system. Healthy and digitally mature organizations have in place an optimized information logistics system (OILS), that enables data to flow unencumbered and efficiently throughout an organization in digital-time. Data must flow in digital-time, a speed which is fast en...
When discussing disruptive technologies, the topic of blockchain inevitably enters the conversation. Gartner recently listed blockchain as one of the ‘Key platform-enabling technologies to track.’ Approximately $1.4B has been invested in blockchain just this year, according to PwC executive Seamus Cushley. IBM announced this week a Blockchain-as-a-Service Enterprise offering at their Interconnect Conference. While there is a lot of ‘hype vs reality’ discussions going on, there is no arguing that blockchain is being taken very seriously across industries and cannot be ignored.
Technologies help us deliver on a business strategy. Without a strategy, there is no rationale for deploying technologies. In addition, there is no rationale for digital transformation, unless there is a need for business transformation. If you believe this as we do, then strategy development will be a priority. Strategies, however, are developed under the guidance of a doctrine. The purpose of a doctrine is to create a high level understanding of what we we want to achieve with our strategy, and the concepts that must be employed to achieve it. An organization's doctrine will guide strat...
Many times, sports have been at the leading edge of data analytics. The book “Moneyball” was one of the first popular books to bring the basic concepts behind data analytics and data science to the general audience. Fantasy leagues, sabermetrics and even games like “Strat-O-Matic” baseball and basketball provided an introduction into basic statistical concepts. And it now seems that sports, in this case the National Basketball Association (NBA), are breaking new ground with another data analytics topic: who owns the data? The National Basketball Players Association recently banned NBA teams...
Next month will mark the 47th anniversary of Apollo 13. The film that recounts the story is a favorite of mine, probably because it so masterfully captures the incredible suspense, fear, and hope felt by people everywhere, that I personally recall very well. I also know how an organization’s digital transformation can generate similar reactions! Apollo 13 was likely a casualty of the space program’s incredibly aggressive schedule. NASA, with U.S. political and military leaders, was motivated by competition from the U.S.S.R. and fear of the potential consequences of not being first. Urgency of...
Information Technology has advanced in different areas at different speeds. This has always been true, as people found workable solutions to the problems that faced them today, most often before there was a market for those solutions. While things like virtualization and eventually cloud computing grew slowly, programming languages sat at the same point for around a decade before the current round of new languages and approaches—Python, Ruby, Node, Swift—came about. These things seem unrelated, but there is a union of the two sets of changes that we are about to see blossom.
GovCloud Network is proud to have served as the Program Manager for the NATO Allied Command Transformation, "Art of the Possible" Interoperability Demonstration on December 16, 2016. supporting the The Network Centric Operations Industry Consortium (NCOIC), this effort featured an important demonstration for military, government and business leaders by its member-companies to underscore the benefits of collaborating via an interoperable network environment. The demonstration used a secure, federated-cloud infrastructure to highlight the consortium’s work over the past few years in how to devel...
In the age of global cyberattacks, corporate enterprises and government agencies that have some type of cloud-based network solutions should be looking at a strategic design focus that guarantees a very secure intelligent infrastructure unsusceptible to cyberattacks or natural disasters. Hardening an organization’s data center as well as its networks (and clouds) is a critical step to ensuring its business continuity. In today’s corporate business environment, many organizations cannot survive if their core applications are out-of-service for a couple of days.
You can turn a microwave into a camera and I’ll teach you how in a minute, but before I do, let me share this news item. In a recent interview with a reporter from the Bergen Record, Kellyanne Conway was asked about surveillance. She responded: “There are many ways to surveil each other now, unfortunately. There was an article this week that talked about how you can surveil someone through their phones, certainly through their television sets, any number of different ways. And microwaves that turn into cameras, et cetera. So we know that that is just a fact of modern life.”
I happened to be in India last November when prime minister Modi announced the demonetization program, where 86% of the currency in the form of two paper bills (Rs. 500 and 1000 denomination) were made defunct. People were given time to deposit their existing currencies in the bank. Those who had unusually high volume of such currencies were supposed to declare the legal source or face stiff penalties such as 60-75% tax. The goal was to catch the money hoarders and black marketers who avoid paying taxes on such undeclared money.
The IT industry is undergoing a significant evolution to keep up with cloud application demand. We see this happening as a mindset shift, from traditional IT teams to more well-rounded, cloud-focused job roles. The IT industry has become so cloud-minded that Gartner predicts that by 2020, this cloud shift will impact more than $1 trillion of global IT spending. This shift, however, has left some IT professionals feeling a little anxious about what lies ahead. The good news is that cloud computing is relatively new by IT's standards, which means it's constantly expanding to encompass new career...
This past week HPE continued buying into server storage I/O data infrastructure technologies announcing an all cash (e.g. no stock) acquisition of Nimble Storage (NMBL). The cash acquisition for a little over $1B USD amounts to $12.50 USD per Nimble share, double what it had traded at. As a refresh, or overview, Nimble is an all flash shared storage system leverage NAND flash solid storage device (SSD) performance. Note that Nimble also partners with Cisco and Lenovo platforms that compete with HPE servers for converged systems. Earlier this year (keep in mind its only mid-March) HPE also a...
George Lucas, creator of Star Wars, once said, "You can't do it unless you can imagine it." Inour latest research on the future state of work in the retail sector, we find many industry executives struggling to imagine where the future is leading them and their organizations, not to mention the role digital technologies will play along the way. Traditional retailers are challenged by rapidly emerging new business models, such as Amazon Go and Facebook's launch of its digital commerce platform, Marketplace. Moreover, pioneering companies in the sharing economy (i.e., Uber) are expanding from...
A strategy is a planning document that sets a direction for future work to ensure that you end up where you want to be. A strategy allows you to see the wood, despite the trees. A strategy is often used as a management tool for securing the resources needed to get there. IT is now part of the business and forward looking organisations will have senior IT people responsible for helping devise the Corporate Business Strategy
In the first article of this three-part series on hybrid cloud security, we discussed the Shared Responsibility Model, and examined how the most common attack strategies persist, are amplified, or are mitigated as assets move from data centers to the cloud. In part two, we talked about the unique security challenges that are introduced by public cloud environments. In this third and final installment, we’ll review why it’s essential to approach hybrid cloud security with different methods, tools and best practices than those used in the data center.
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Past SYS-CON Events
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Cloud Expo 2011 Allstar Conference Faculty

S.F.S.
Dell

Singer
NRO

Pereyra
Oracle

Ryan
OpSource

Butte
PwC

Leone
Oracle

Riley
AWS

Varia
AWS

Lye
Oracle

O'Connor
AppZero

Crandell
RightScale

Nucci
Dell Boomi

Hillier
CiRBA

Morrison
Layer 7 Tech

Robbins
NYT

Schwarz
Oracle

What The Enterprise IT World Says About Cloud Expo
 
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Navisite
 


 
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Univa UD
 


 
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CTO
Citrix Systems
 


 
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CTO
Brick Group