The Future Is in the Cards

Rob Daly, Sell-Side Technology

I've wondered over the last few weeks what is in store for the humble CPU as the use of low-latency trading continues to grow. At several industry events, I've heard that everyone is trying to push as much work off the CPU as possible in order to reduce latency.

Many financial technologists are talking about adopting one of the many field-programmable gate arrays (FPGA) from a number of vendors, or graphical processing units (GPUs) from Nvidia. The biggest challenge with these alternative processors is that they use obscure and proprietary programming languages, and finding the staff with the knowledge and talent to get the most out of these platforms is hard, and they are expensive to keep.

However, there are some interesting developments on the horizon. Processor maker Intel is exploring a way to deliver additional processors on separate cards to take some of the workload off the CPU. At the same time, Microsoft is in the midst of Project Kiwi, which aims to make reconfigurable computing platforms like FPGAs more accessible to mainstream programmers.

If these vendors successfully opened up these card-based processors to a wider base of programmers, I predict their adoption would shoot through the roof. But it will be at least 12 to 18 months before we see products from the vendors.

For a long time, the release cycles of these alternative computing platforms seemed 180 degrees out of sync with the mainstream processors. When users had pushed their existing CPUs to the limit, many would turn to cards and appliances to get an added performance boost until the next generation of CPUs hit the market. With the major processors backing the new architecture, this release cycle could soon change.

Send me your thoughts on the topic at [email protected]


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