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Project Catapult: Why Microsoft is betting on reprogrammable computer chips

Posted on Monday, September 26 2016 @ 16:19:04 CEST by

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Wired took a look at why Microsoft is dedicating a lot of resources to equip its cloud services with reprogrammable computer chips. The site explains that about four years ago, a small team of Microsoft engineers started working on Project Catapult, a dream of equipping all of Microsoft's servers with FPGAs that can be reprogrammed to perform new tasks.

After a lot of pitfalls, Project Catapult was rolled out en masse and is now powering millions of Microsoft machines across the globe, to speed up Bing, Azure and Office 365 applications. The FPGAs drive new search algorithms based on deep neural networks and execute these tasks much faster and more power efficient than ordinary processors can.
It’s a typical tangle of tech acronyms. CPUs. GPUs. TPUs. FPGAs. But it’s the subtext that matters. With cloud computing, companies like Microsoft and Google and Amazon are driving so much of the world’s technology that those alternative chips will drive the wider universe of apps and online services. [Microsoft Research vice president Peter] Lee says that Project Catapult will allow Microsoft to continue expanding the powers of its global supercomputer until the year 2030. After that, he says, the company can move toward quantum computing.
The FPGAs used by Microsoft are manufactured by Altera, and according to Intel executive vice president Diane Bryant, Microsoft is why Intel bought Altera for $16.7 billion in the summer of 2015. You can read the full piece over here.

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