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Applications in the fast lane

The numbers are almost impossible to imagine: According to market research firm IDC, the collective sum of all the data that the world’s companies and private individuals generate, store and replicate will amount to 175 zettabytes by 2025, more than five times as much as today. This corresponds to a trillion gigabytes – or put another way: a stack of DVDs that would reach around the world 222 times or to the moon and back 23 times. According to the study, around a quarter of this data will be processed in real time. However, this is where conventional processors will reach their limits.

FPGA: Freely programmable circuits ignite the turbo

But what if you have to go faster? After all, in the future many applications will require virtually instantaneous data processing, such as autonomous driving, telemedicine or the analysis of customer behavior. A group of computer scientists at Darmstadt Technical University led by Felix Winterstein and Andreas Duffner found a solution in their research into adaptive computers: using so-called FPGAs (Field-Programmable Gate Arrays) from the Open Telekom Cloud to process computationally intensive algorithms. These are hardware cards with their own computing and memory components whose mode of operation is freely programmable. FPGAs can therefore be used for many processes and often serve as accelerators for enterprise applications.

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Shorten processing time by up to a factor of 100

Therefore, Felix Winterstein and his colleagues developed the Xelera Suite, a middleware that functions as a hardware-independent interface to FPGA platforms in data centers and in the cloud. In April 2018, they founded the company of the same name, Xelera. "Most companies don’t have the necessary know-how to use FPGAs profitably. Individual configuration also costs time and money," says Felix Winterstein. Depending on the application, the Xelera Suite enables process runtimes to be shortened by up to a factor of 100 – and relieves the corporate servers’ CPUs, so that their energy consumption can be reduced by around a third.

Controlling robots by the millisecond

The middleware can show its strengths in applications from areas such as Edge Computing and IoT. Industrial robots equipped with sensors and cameras and controlled via AI are one example. Since AI algorithms are very computationally intensive and sometimes have to be processed by the millisecond, so-called Edge Computing is used on site in the factories. These are mini data centers that are located close to the production to ensure the lowest possible latencies and perform calculations with the data they receive from, for example, robots. Felix Winterstein: "These calculations in the Edge Server cause delays that can be significantly reduced by using our FPGA accelerator."

Big Data analyses during your coffee break

Another important area of application for the Xelera turbo is Big Data analysis: "What is now still being processed overnight in batch processes can be reduced to the length of a coffee break," says Andreas Duffner. "For example, based on historical and current data, companies can calculate forecasts for the following business day within just 15 minutes.”

FPGA flavors and servers from the Open Telekom Cloud

Xelera uses FPGA flavors from the Open Telekom Cloud’s Elastic Cloud Server offering as the infrastructure platform. The company is already benefiting from this during discussions with potential customers: "The capacities from the Open Telekom Cloud give us the opportunity to quickly set up our middleware suite in the cloud and demonstrate its benefits – for example in accelerating standard databases such as SAP. Or applications that run on platforms like SAP HANA," says Felix Winterstein.

"Super-fast network connection" from Telekom

Since Xelera is focusing on the German market, the Open Telekom Cloud, with its multiple-certified, highly secure data centers in Germany, was the first choice for the start-up, which also qualified for Deutsche Telekom's TechBoost program in August 2018. Telekom is also responsible for the connection to the network. The location factor had a double positive impact for Xelera: "We benefit from excellent connectivity with very low latencies – this is an extremely important factor for real-time processing. Because super-fast data processing in the cloud doesn't do much good if there’s a bottleneck waiting in the network connection or valuable time is lost en route to the WAN," says Felix Winterstein.

Xelera wins innovation award

There is plenty for the Xelera suite to do. After all there’s no shortage of computing-intensive processes – whether in market forecasts and risk calculations in the financial sector, real-time analysis of customer behavior in retail or genome analysis in medicine. The application turbo’s potential has also not gone unnoticed at Germany’s Ministry of Economics and Energy: Xelera was awarded one of the main prizes in the ministry’s 2018 "Digital Innovation Start-Up Competition."


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