New Amazon F1 Instance Reduces Capital-Intensive and Time-Consuming Steps in App Development

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Amazon's is making news about lots of interesting things at its AWS re:Invent 2016 conference currently underway in Las Vegas, and their just announced AWS F1 Instance is no exception.

"Today we are launching a developer preview of the new F1 instance," said Jeff Barr, Chief Evangelist at Amazon Web Services. "In addition to building applications and services for your own use, you will be able to package them up for sale and reuse in AWS Marketplace. Putting it all together, you will be able to avoid all of the capital-intensive and time-consuming steps that were once a prerequisite to the use of FPGA-powered applications, using a business model that is more akin to that used for every other type of software. We are giving you the ability to design your own logic, simulate and verify it using cloud-based tools, and then get it to market in a matter of days."

Here are the specs on the FPGA (there are up to eight of these in a single F1 instance):

- Xilinx UltraScale+ VU9P fabricated using a 16 nm process.
- 64 GiB of ECC-protected memory on a 288-bit wide bus (four DDR4 channels).
- Dedicated PCIe x16 interface to the CPU.
- Approximately 2.5 million logic elements.
- Approximately 6,800 Digital Signal Processing (DSP) engines.
- Virtual JTAG interface for debugging.

The F1 instance will significantly speed up applications that are built for a specific purpose. "The general purpose tools can be used to solve many different problems, but may not be the best choice for any particular one," says Barr. "Purpose-built tools excel at one task, but you may need to do that particular task infrequently."

Typically says Barr this requires another balancing act: trading off the potential for incredible performance vs. a development life cycle often measured in quarters or years.

"One of the more interesting routes to a custom, hardware-based solution is known as a Field Programmable Gate Array, or FPGA," said Barr. "
This highly parallelized model is ideal for building custom accelerators to process compute-intensive problems. Properly programmed, an FPGA has the potential to provide a 30x speedup to many types of genomics, seismic analysis, financial risk analysis, big data search, and encryption algorithms and applications."

"I hope that this sounds awesome and that you are chomping at the bit to use FPGAs to speed up your own applications," said Barr. "There are a few interesting challenges along the way. First, FPGAs have traditionally been a component of a larger, purpose-built system. You cannot simply buy one and plug it in to your desktop. Instead, the route to FPGA-powered solutions has included hardware prototyping, construction of a hardware appliance, mass production, and a lengthy sales & deployment cycle. The lead time can limit the applicability of FPGAs, and also means that Moore’s Law has time to make CPU-based solutions more cost-effective."

Amazon believes that they can do better, and that's where the F1 instance comes in.

"The bottom line here is that the combination of the F1 instances, the cloud-based development tools, and the ability to sell FPGA-powered applications is unique and powerful," says Barr. "The power and flexibility of the FPGA model is now accessible all AWS users; I am sure that this will inspire entirely new types of applications and businesses."

Developers can sign up now for the Amazon EC2 F1 Instances (Preview).

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