Microsoft Planning To Make Bing’s Existing Data Centers Twice As Fast By Using FPGAs Instead Of Traditional Intel Chips

Altera Microsoft Bing

Microsoft deploys thousands of servers every year in its data centers to run its growing web services and cloud business. In fact, they recently revealed that have about one million computers in more than 100 data centers spread over 40 countries. Microsoft’s problem is that chips are no longer improving at the same rate they once were. They want to improve the data center efficiency. So far, all of Microsoft’s data centers are powered by traditional Intel CPUs running usual server software. Now, they are planning to replace it with field-programmable arrays, or FPGAs, processors that Microsoft could modify specifically for use with its own software. These FPGAs are already available in the market and Microsoft is sourcing it from a company called Altera.

This whole idea was started by Doug Burger from Microsoft Research, he called it Project Catapult.

In a first for Microsoft, he approved a 1,600-server pilot-system to test out Burger’s ideas, and now, he has given the green light to actually move these FPGAs into Microsoft’s live data centers. This is set to happen early next year. That means that a few months from now, when you do a Bing search, there’s a decent chance that it will be carried out by one of Burger’s servers.

What’s the real advantage of using?

  • The FPGAs are 40 times faster than a CPU at processing Bing’s custom algorithms.
  • Overall system will be twice as fast as Bing’s existing system.
  • Microsoft can decrease the number of servers that they already use in half.

You can read the whole process on how it took off and how it works from The Registers also has a detailed story on this, read it here.

  • Myclevername

    Hello SkyNet

  • ZloiYuri

    Years ago MS Research developed reconfigurable command set processors. Sadly they didn’t got any popularity, even efficiency were very high. Maybe this ideas will implement now at last.

    • Paolo

      FPGAs were invented in the 80’s and are found in cars, TVs, mobile base stations, MRI machines …..

      There is nothing new about FPGAs

      • ZloiYuri

        I think you don’t imagine what I’m about. FPGA is just array of useless logic. Main – how to rule them. And most hard – make software for them. MS Research successfully solve this problems. And you go kiss unmounted chips further, they are everything needed, right?

        • Kickstar

          To be fair, most of the time none of us know what you’re about.

      • Jeff Hung

        Yes, FPGA is nothing new and using FPGA to accelerate specific algorithms isn’t a new idea. However, the programming model and reconfiguration framework are still ad-hoc to each application.
        Applying FPGA in search engine or other cloud service is indeed an audacious proposal.

  • JohnCz

    “Instead of” .. is incorrect, servers will have both chips. Just like graphics processing is offloaded to the gpu. I would not be surprised if they probably were looking at using gpus but found this to be a cheaper & more efficient alternative.

  • Kickstar

    Oh good, then maybe they can roll out all the US only features to the rest of the Planet.

  • tomakali

    well isnt HP’s “the machine” better than Intel/Altera?
    maybe Microsoft can push HP to release HP’s “the machine” architecture soon