Ron Huizen oversees product development at BittWare. His expert product knowledge gives customers insight into how best leverage existing products or in developing new platforms. He holds a Bachelor of Computer Science from Acadia University (Wolfville, Nova Scotia) and a Master of Computer Science from Carleton University (Ottawa, Ontario).
For the last 30 years, designers have used FPGAs as a convenient and fast way to develop specialized hardware for applications that require more performance than software-programmed CPUs can deliver. Back when FPGAs were available in socketable DIP packages, it was easy to develop prototype hardware in the lab and then start FPGA development. The advent of larger, more advanced FPGAs with complex, high-current supply-voltage requirements; high-power cooling needs; and BGA surface-mount packaging have made FPGA prototyping essentially impossible, leading directly to FPGA-based boards where the hardware design and assembly have already been done. These boards allow FPGA developers to get a head start on the real task at hand: application design.
BittWare began providing these FPGA boards over a decade ago, with a focus on production-ready designs as opposed to “kits.” Developers create their application on a BittWare board and either directly deploy to their customer using the same boards or create a further refined hardware design—sometimes using BittWare as an ODM supplier.
On November 30, 2016, Amazon Web Services (AWS) launched the AWS EC2 F1 instance, which provides cloud-based access to Xilinx Virtex UltraScale+ VU9P FPGAs along with 64Gbytes of ECC-protected DDR4 SDRAM per FPGA on Amazon-designed boards plugged into Amazon’s AWS servers. Access to the AWS EC2 F1 instances requires only an Amazon AWS account. You can access AWS FPGA facilities anywhere there’s cloud access.
You develop applications directly on the Amazon EC2 F1 instance using Amazon-provided tools which initially included AWS’ FPGA Developer AMI (Amazon Machine Image) and HDK (Hardware Developer Kit), and Xilinx’s Vivado Tool Suite. In September, 2017, AWS added OpenCL development capability to its software development tool suite through an AWS version of the Xilinx SDAccel development environment. With the introduction of the AWS EC2 F1 instance (and others with similar offerings using Xilinx and Intel devices), FPGA developers now have a rent or buy decision to make.