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Evolution of IoT creates uncertainties

Posted: 12 Jan 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:FPGA  Internet of Things  Internet  ASIC  ASSP 

The growth in the Internet of Things (IoT) space will necessitate an increase in horsepower requirement in data centre servers and flexibility at end nodes for security, which are factors that also move the field of FPGAs. This year may see that motion more actively as ASIC and ASSP design-costs spiral, uncertainties about functionality grow, and more sporadic high-volume opportunities.

New dynamics and the evolving Internet of Things (IoT), however, are creating an uncertain environment with unintended consequences. As the industry struggles to make the IoT work, two trends will emerge that play directly into the strengths of programmable logic, creating great opportunities for FPGAs.

Simplicity begets complexity

The concept behind the IoT is simple: If a device is controlled by electronics, you can simply connect the controller to the Internet to accept commands with a smartphone or cloud application. The end result is a device composed of sensors and actuators with network interfaces, all connecting across the Internet to control software.

We are already seeing this process at work. Smartphone services such as Apple's Siri execute in the cloud, not on the handset. In the networking space, network functions virtualisation replaces entire boxes of specialised networking hardware with software running on servers in data centres. The future of the IoT appears to be a universe of tiny, inexpensive sensors and actuators connected through the Internet to giant data centres.

This view, however, is too simplistic. Trends in data acceleration and network enrichment, both favourable to FPGAs, are addressing needs for faster and predictable real-time performance, low-power WiFi and Ethernet connections, and rapidly evolving device security.

In the data centre, tasks historically performed in hardware are being transmuted into functions of software running on servers. Sometimes this conversion is easy. Sometimes it only works when you break the task into many threads and spread the threads over many servers. Sometimes, however, even multithreading doesn't make the software fast enough, and hardware acceleration is needed to meet the real-time requirements of the task.

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