Project Catapult Members Microsoft Official
Project Catapult team members, from left, Adrian Caulfield, Doug Burger, Andrew Putnam, Eric Chung and Sitaram Lanka.

Back at Ignite last month, Microsoft discussed the field programmable gate array (FPGA). This is a reprogrammable computer chip that the company has now implemented in Azure and Bing. The company has been working on this technology for five years. Microsoft has now rolled out FPGA to help accelerate its services.

Indeed, in a blog post, the company describes FPGA advancements as the “moonshot that succeeded”. Microsoft believes this is a game changing moment. You can read more in-depth research about the new chip in the research paper.

This chip has been in development since 2011, when it was known as Project Catapult. Sitaram Lanka has been on the project since the start. He and Derek Chiou led a team of Microsoft researchers in creating the FPGA system. This reprogrammable gate array allows engineers to write algorithms directly onto hardware.

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It is possible to skip the process of using software as a go-between for algorithms. With field programmable gate array, the chip can be reprogrammed on the spot and can adapt to new AI advancements and respond to unexpected datacenter changes.

Game Changer

Microsoft hasn’t reinvented the wheel here, FPGA chips have been around for some time. The company may be reinventing the wheel, though, and project engineer Doug Burger says “this is an industry shift”.

This is the first time where programmable gate array technology has been used for large scale cloud computing. At least this is the first time the idea has been explored with any great depth. Project Catapult has grown to become a fully deployed idea within Microsoft’s Azure and Bing services.

The company points out that FPGA’s can accelerate Bing’s search performance when dealing with requests. For Azure, it helps to create a speedier cloud platform. Microsoft benefits because it can use fewer servers. Ultimately this would lead to more efficient and cost-effective datacenters and better results for users and customers.

Microsoft is expanding the idea quickly. By the close of this year the company will deploy neural networks through Catapult to enhance Bing. End users (you and me) should see the results in day to day searches, Microsoft adds.

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