Amazon adds Nvidia
Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) offers businesses the opportunity to rent scalable servers and host applications and services remotely, rather than pay for and handle the infrastructure and management of those resources on their own. The service, which first entered beta a little more than ten years ago, has historically focused on CPUs, but that’s changing now, courtesy of a newly-unveiled partnership with Nvidia.
According to joint blog posts from both companies, Amazon will now offer P2 instances that include Nvidia’s K80 accelerators, which are based on the older Kepler architecture. Those of you who follow the graphics market may be surprised, given that Maxwell has been available since 2014, but Maxwell was explicitly designed as a consumer and workstation product, not a big-iron HPC part. The K80 is based on GK210, not the top-end GK110 parts that formed the basis for the early Titan GPUs and the GTX 780 and GTX 780 Ti. GK210 offers a larger register file and much more shared memory per multiprocessor block, as shown below.
We’ve had good luck challenging the von Neumann bottleneck through hardware. But the general consensus seems to be that the changes in programming standards that Backus called for never really took root.
I’m not sure why Amazon went down this particular rabbit hole. Incorporating GPUs as part of its EC2 service makes good sense. In the nearly ten years since Nvidia launched the first PC programmable GPU, the G80, GPUs have proven that they can deliver enormous performance improvements relative to CPUs. Nvidia (and to a lesser extent, AMD) has built a significant business around the use of Tesla cards in HPC, scientific computing, and major industry. Deep learning, AI, and self-driving cars are all hot topics of late, with huge amounts of corporate funding and a number of smaller companies trying to stake out positions in the nascent market.