Inside Advanced Scale Challenges|Wednesday, January 25, 2017
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EU Launches Low-Power Chip Effort 

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The European Union is expanding its efforts to promote energy-efficient computing with funding for hardware research aimed at next-generation high-end processors.

"The European Commission wants Europe to avail [itself] of a new family of processors with a significantly better energy/performance ratio compared to current offerings, specifically tailored for high-performance, low-power server-side applications," Sandro D’Elia of the European Commission, told a computing conference this week.

D'Elia, of the commission's directorate for communications networks, content and technology, said the agency is seeking to harness exascale computing performance while supporting emerging Internet of Things and other applications requiring more horsepower and reduced power consumption.

The EU chip effort parallels and earlier Euroserver project that includes European electronics heavyweights such as SoftBank's (TYO: 9984) U.K.-based ARM chip unit and STMicroelectronics (NYSE: STM) that is pursuing a next-generation "micro-server" or "server on a chip." The effort assumes that shrinking the size of future server components will help reduce datacenter energy consumption.

The EU chip initiative also is being promoted by a project called High Performance and Embedded Architecture and Compilation. The latest iteration of the HiPEAC project was launched in January with a dozen European partners led by Ghent University.

The Euro processor effort is part of a European Commission technology effort called Horizon 2020. According to an EC solicitation released this week, "The trend towards 'Smart Anything Everywhere' must be supported by innovations allowing a very significant reduction of two complementary aspects: the cost and complexity of software development for modern architectures, and the energy footprint of computation and communication."

Hence, chip initiative seeks to tackle the hardware limitations of current processor technologies, particularly efforts to deliver exascale computing based on low-power processors. "This is a serious problem for the development of very promising application areas, [for example], at the convergence between high performance computing, big data and deep learning," a program overview stressed.

The EU effort envisions development of secure, low-power processors for platforms based on "highly parallel and heterogeneous architectures." Targeted applications include server workloads and high-performance computing applications in datacenters where energy efficiency and size constraints are critical.

As data-driven architectures emerge, the effort also seeks to address processing applications that move low-power computing resource closer to data at the network edge. That means emerging low-power processor designs also will require hardware-based security features, program officials said.

As of Thursday (Nov. 10) the Horizon 2020 project reported that 264 proposals have been submitted related to the EU processor initiative. "Proposals will provide programming environments and tools optimized for specific application domains of significant economic value, ideally covering the complete software stack from runtime systems to application programming," the project web site states.

Among the current technology limitations to be addressed are power density, thermal management, memory access speed and latency along with improving on- and off-chip communications. The effort also is targeting support for the growing list of real-time applications such as streaming data.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 25 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as Executive Editor for Electronic Engineering Times.

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