Mikhail Asiatici, Nithin George, Paolo Ienne
FPGAs offer high performance coupled with energy efficiency making them extremely attractive computational resources within a cloud ecosystem. However, to achieve this integration and make them easy to program, we first need to enable users with varying expertise to easily develop cloud applications that leverage FPGAs. With the growing size of FPGAs, allocating them monolithically to users can be wasteful due to potentially low device utilization. Hence, we also need to be able to dynamically share FPGAs among multiple users. To address these concerns, we propose a methodology and a runtime system that together simplify the FPGA application development process by providing: 1) a clean abstraction with high-level APIs for easy application development; 2) a simple execution model that supports both hardware and software execution; and 3) a shared memory-model which is convenient to use for the programmers. Akin to an operating system on a computer, our lightweight runtime system enables the simultaneous execution of multiple applications by virtualizing computational resources, i.e., FPGA resources and on-board memory, and offers protection facilities to isolate applications from each other. In this paper, we illustrate how these features can be developed in a lightweight manner and quantitatively evaluate the performance overhead they introduce on a small set of applications running on our proof of concept prototype. Our results demonstrate that these features only introduce marginal performance overheads. More importantly, by sharing resources for simultaneous execution of multiple user applications, our platform improves FPGA utilization and delivers higher aggregate throughput compared to accessing the device in a time-shared manner.