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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 currently a Senior Solutions Architect at StackIQ, Inc. He is also working with Mesamundi on D20PRO, and is a member of the Stacki Open Source project. He has experience in application development, architecture, infrastructure, technical writing, 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.

Go Beyond IaaS to Deliver "Anything As a Service"
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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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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@CloudExpo Blogs
It feels like the barbarians are continually at the gate. We can’t seem to go more than a week before a new data breach is in the news, impacting potentially millions of individuals. The targets range from companies like Omni Hotels, which had been breached affecting up to 50,000 customers whose personal and credit card information was exposed, to North Carolina State University, where over 38,000 students’ personal information, including their SSNs, were at risk. As I mentioned in a recent blog ‘Internet of Things and Big Data – who owns your data?’, we have been storing our personal and cred...
Clouds are typically classified into four different topologies: private, public, community and hybrid clouds. Let’s focus on hybrid clouds: what are the use cases that require this topology, what are the challenges, and who stands to benefit from the hybrid cloud trend? First off, a definition: A hybrid cloud is a topology in which more than one cloud infrastructure is utilized to solve a particular problem.
Tangerine Bank in Toronto has improved end-user experiences for online banking and made data more secure across its lifecycle, speeding the delivery of a new credit card offering. We'll now learn how improving end-user experiences for online banking and making data more secure across its lifecycle has helped speed the delivery of a new credit card offering.
Yes this post is about the #Brexit, but it's about your data more importantly! As a company that has a large customer and open source user community in the EU, I thought a quick note on some considerations following the Brexit vote were in order. This is not an opinion piece, as that would seem to be casting stones at this point. The vote is done and the process will move forward as it was voted, but I do think the impacts of this decision are going to be incredibly disruptive and likely felt for a long time to come in many ways well outside the economic or political realms. There is no secto...
Opining about the future of AI at the recent Brilliant Minds event at Symposium Stockholm, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt rejected warnings from Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking about the dangers of AI, saying, “In the case of Stephen Hawking, although a brilliant man, he’s not a computer scientist. Elon is also a brilliant man, though he too is a physicist, not a computer scientist.” This absurd dismissal of Musk and Hawking was in response to an absurd question about “the possibility of an artificial superintelligence trying to destroy mankind in the near future.” Schmidt went on to sa...
Continuous testing helps bridge the gap between developing quickly and maintaining high quality products. But to implement continuous testing, CTOs must take a strategic approach to building a testing infrastructure and toolset that empowers their team to move fast. Download our guide to laying the groundwork for a scalable continuous testing strategy.
This is part one of a two-part series of posts about using some common server storage I/O benchmark tools and workload scripts. View part II here which includes the workload scripts and where to view sample results. There are various tools and workloads for server I/O benchmark testing, validation and exercising different storage devices (or systems and appliances) such as Non-Volatile Memory (NVM) flash Solid State Devices (SSDs) or Hard Disk Drives (HDD) among others.
Cloud computing has taken over the business world! With almost maniacal focus, single proprietors and Board Directors of the world's largest conglomerates see this new model as a "must do". This rapid shift is, in fact, accelerating. As Jeff Bertolucci observes in "The Shift to Cloud Services Is Happening Faster Than Expected": "According to the sixth annual Uptime Institute Data Center Industry Survey, which examines the big-picture trends shaping IT infrastructure delivery and strategy, the move to cloud services is accelerating. The Uptime Institute's February 2016 poll of more than 1,00...
Enterprises and service providers are moving to cloud. Cloud providers are expanding their infrastructure, reach and ease of adoption. Users are becoming mobile, they access their information and services on their personal mobile devices first. We have seen game changers like Netflix and AirBnB become vastly successful by using the power of public cloud as their infrastructure of choice. Service providers like Microsoft, Adobe and Oracle are quickly moving their services to cloud, offering them as a SaaS subscription. So why are we seeing this new "app store" model of development, deliver...
The age of computers is over. You are now living in the age of intelligent processing by just about everything else. Like vacuum tubes and tape drives, desktops and laptops are on their way to becoming odd relics of a distant age, if people remember them at all. That may sound a bit extreme, but the fact is that applications are not married to any technological substrate, not even the most advanced mobile devices. That is why smart developers have already turned their attention to using JavaScript for building out next-generation technology like drone controllers, big data management tools, an...
When the Internet of Things (IoT) started to emerge as a popular topic, I had to stop and ask myself if I was once again going to provide commentary on this emerging field. I enjoy exploring new technology shifts and illustrating how they can benefit various industries and businesses. It’s what I’ve done for the past 20 years through Java, XML, Web Services, SOA, Cloud and DevOps. However, every time I started writing on IoT I seemed to run into the same conundrum; am I commenting on this to jump on the hype bandwagon or because I see a need to represent the pragmatics of implementing and adop...
After many years of research, misfires and frightening Hollywood plotlines, artificial intelligence (AI) is finally coming into its own and beginning to demonstrate significant business value. The combined forces of big data, human expertise and AI are being used across industries as diverse as healthcare and manufacturing, as well as within all aspects of business. IT operations is one area that AI is beginning to contribute to enormously. IT infrastructures are changing rapidly today, particularly hybrid cloud environments. While they are increasingly dynamic and agile, they are also ext...
I’ve heard several clients complain about the curse of “orphaned analytics”; which are one-off analytics developed to address a specific business need but never “operationalized” or packaged for re-use across the organization. Unfortunately, many analytic organizations lack a framework for ensuring that the analytics are not being developed in a void. Organizations lack an overarching model to ensure that the resulting analytics and associated organizational intellectual capital can be captured and re-used across multiple use cases.

The post Jul. 28, 2016 08:00 AM EDT  Reads: 367

Thomas Bitman of Gartner wrote a blog post last year about why OpenStack projects fail. In that article, he outlined three particular metrics which together cause 60% of OpenStack projects to fall short of expectations: Wrong people (31% of failures): a successful cloud needs commitment both from the operations team as well as from "anchor" tenants. Wrong processes (19% of failures): a successful cloud automates across silos in the software development lifecycle, not just within silos.
Big Data. Analytics. Internet of Things. Cloud. In the last few years, you cannot have a discussion around technology without those terms entering the conversation. They have been major technology disruptors impacting all aspects of the business. Change seems to occur at breakneck speeds and shows no sign of slowing. Today, it appears the one constant in technology is change. Constant change requires constant innovation which thereby introduces more new technologies. One of the new technologies entering the conversation is machine learning. Gartner identified machine learning as one of the top...
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Cloud Expo 2011 Allstar Conference Faculty

S.F.S.
Dell

Singer
NRO

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Oracle

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OpSource

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PwC

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Oracle

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AWS

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AWS

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