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Altera sees new opportunities for FPGAs in 2010

Posted: 07 Jan 2010     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:FPGA  opportunities  communication  bandwidth  industrial automation 

Danny Biran

Biran: FPGAs are now being utilised for functions and applications long the domain of other silicon solutions and the replacement of ASICs and ASSPs is accelerating.

Two of the more interesting opportunities for the FPGA industry in 2010 are meeting growing bandwidth demands and the use of FPGAs in applications that were previously the domain of just ASICs and ASSPs.

Bandwidth demands
A quick scan of the latest Internet usage studies and forecasts gives strong support to the argument that we have moved away from a core or processor centric world and are now living in a world that is very bandwidth-centric.

For instance, the Discovery Institute in the United States predicts that by 2015 U.S. IP traffic could reach an annual total of one zettabyte (1021B or one million million billion bytes). Bandwidth hungry applications, such as cloud computing, video gaming, VoIP, photo sharing and video-on-demand, are fuelling this growth. Cisco Systems predicts that by 2013 video traffic will represent 90 per cent of all Internet traffic. This is up from just one-third of all Internet traffic today.

With this move to a bandwidth-centric world, system developers have embraced high-speed serial protocols. To address this bandwidth challenge they need silicon devices with high-performance transceivers and this is an area where the latest FPGAs have an advantage over other silicon solutions.

New markets
The requirement for silicon devices with high-speed transceivers is not limited to communication markets. Another market segment that requires transceiver technology in 2010 is the industrial automation market that is being networked. This shouldn't surprise anybody. Computers are now networked, storage is networked. Everything that is networked is easier to maintain, easier to manage, easier to control, and easier to upgrade. The networked industrial world is based on Ethernet.

What is very interesting is that there are many different types of Ethernet standards in the industrial world. The reasons for this are many as well. In the industrial market you have different types of machines, different type of factories, and different requirements. Some are real time; some are not real time. Some care about deterministic timing. Because of that, there are a lot of different standards, such as ProfiNet and EtherCAT. They are all using Ethernet as the fundamental transport technology, but have very different flavours.

With an FPGA, a customer can have a single hardware platform and just use the right protocol for the right application, which obviously makes it very cost effective for them. This is one of those applications that haven't used FPGAs before. Because of the move to industrial Ethernet and because of the variety of industrial Ethernet protocols, the industrial automation segment is very quickly adopting FPGAs.

With this shift from a core or processor centric world to a bandwidth focus, the trend for silicon devices that can be adapted to support the latest communication protocols will continue to expand. This is where FPGAs have a unique advantage.

Shrinking process nodes
Yet another advantage for FPGAs is process technology. The FPGA industry is now delivering devices at the 40nm process node, and has opened a three-generation process-node gap between FPGAs and the majority of ASIC design starts. This gap will increase even further in 2010 as the FPGA industry begins announcing devices at the 28nm process node. This shift to 40nm, and soon 28nm, allows FPGAs to greatly increase in both density and overall performance. As a result FPGAs are now being utilised for functions and applications long the domain of other silicon solutions and the replacement of ASICs and ASSPs is accelerating.

- Danny Biran
  Senior VP, Marketing
  Altera Corp.





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