Microsoft takes step towards delivering FPGAs as a service

Microsoft has taken another step towards allowing its Azure customers to leverage the capabilities of the field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) that the company has installed in its cloud data centres.

Microsoft announced this week at its Build developer conference that it would launch a preview of its FPGA-powered Project Brainwave architecture for deep neural net processing. Brainwave has been “fully integrated” with Azure Machine Learning, Microsoft said.

Even before launching the Brainwave preview, Microsoft had already been using FPGAs to accelerate SDN in its Azure data centres — in fact, all Azure compute servers deployed since late 2015 have been fitted with FPGAs.

According to Mark Russinovich, the chief technology officer of Azure, it is likely that Microsoft has more FPGAs in a production environment than any other tech company in the world.

FPGAs can offer significant advantages over GPUs and CPUs when it comes to AI, according to Russinovich.