August 8, 2009

What does Netezza do in the FPGAs anyway, and other questions

The news of Netezza’s new TwinFin product family has generated a lot of comments and questions, some pretty reasonable, some quite silly. E.g., I’ve seen it suggested privately or publicly that

Netezza’s Phil Francisco addressed some points of this nature in a recent blog post.

More reasonable is the question:

Now that Netezza has changed its architecture, what are all those FPGAs (Field-Programmable Gate Arrays) being used for anyway?

The short answer is:

Almost everything they were used for before, except they aren’t substituting for the disk controller any more.

The longer answer is:

Under NDA, Phil told me that one more item from the list on Page 11 of this two-year-old Netezza white paper explaining its FPGA use is coming soon.

Related links


6 Responses to “What does Netezza do in the FPGAs anyway, and other questions”

  1. Netezza TwinFin appliance family changes architecture and slashes prices | DBMS2 -- DataBase Management System Services on August 8th, 2009 3:48 pm

    […] a follow-up post clarifying Netezza TwinFin’s FPGA use Categories: Analytic technologies, Data warehouse appliances, Data warehousing, Netezza, […]

  2. A.K. on August 10th, 2009 2:01 am

    Interesting. Seems like use of specialized hardware for processing of large volumes of data becomes a reality. I think it is a smarter solution than putting together a lot of cheap commodity PCs together like in MapReduce.

  3. Geno Valente on August 10th, 2009 9:13 am

    No one really talks about it, but FPGAs are much less power than high end server CPUs also. 10-30 Watts vs 100-130 Watts

    For example, our (xtremedata) dbX appliance replaces a CPU with our “SQL In Silicon” (FPGA) in-socket accelerator, and removes 90 watts per server by doing this. This is 16 nodes * 90 Watts per rack or 1.44KWatts per rack.

    Thus, I’m sure the TwinFin S-Blade sees a real power/cooling benefit over a dual-socket CPU-only blade.

  4. John Yates on August 10th, 2009 3:01 pm

    > Compression and/or decompression (I’m a little
    > confused as to which, but I imagine it’s both)


    It was Netezza’s marketing group that opted for euphony over precision in labeling the block of logic performing decompression the “Compress Engine”. Notice how they carefully avoided calling it the “Compression Engine” or the “Decompression Engine”. The ensuing confusion was entirely predictable.

    Netezza has always focused on scan-mostly activities. Thus it makes sense to invest FPGA engineers and gates in decompression. All the more so since decompression is deterministic — the bit stream expresses exactly what to do.

    By contrast, compression is a much more challenging activity. Nearly any compression scheme presents redundant encoding opportunities. Sometimes making good choices requires look-ahead or at least back-patching. That sort of stuff is _really_ hard to implement in an FPGA. Netezza’s experience is that with careful implementation software compression can be implemented with minimal impact on CPU utilization.

    Finally, let me close with an historical analogy from the world of computer graphics. The earliest graphical workstations had only a bit mapped frame buffer manipulated in a high level language (e.g. Xerox Alto + Smalltalk). The drive for increasing graphics performance lead successively to carefully crafted assembly language (e.g. Mac toolkit), pixel interpolation hardware, and ultimately full graphics pipelines of ever increasing complexity. Yet today does anyone argue against “proprietary” graphics hardware? Could it be that hardware support for processing database fields is as inevitable as hardware support for generating pixels?


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