Illinois named Xilinx Center of Excellence

6/3/2020 Kim Gudeman, CSL

Written by Kim Gudeman, CSL

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has been named a Xilinx Center of Excellence for Adaptive Computing. The designation comes with a significant donation from Xilinx, a California-based supplier of adaptive and intelligent computing devices. This includes a large number of high-end adaptive compute acceleration platforms to build a heterogenous computing cluster in Illinois’ Coordinated Science Lab. The Xilinx Adaptive Compute Cluster (XACC) at UIUC is part of a university research program recently announced by Xilinx.

Xilinx has also donated and committed gift grants to support several multi-year research projects in the center. The center
Deming Chen
Deming Chen
will be co-directed by CSL Professors Deming Chen, the Abel Bliss Professor of Engineering, and Wen-mei Hwu, the AMD Jerry Sanders Chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

“The significant gift by Xilinx provides new opportunities for CSL researchers to develop novel types of high-performance computing clusters in data centers, running highly efficient machine learning applications and programming models that were not possible before,” said CSL Director Klara Nahrstedt, the Ralph and Catherine Fisher Professor of Computer Science. “These research efforts, led by Professors Chen and Hwu, represent a continuation of the preeminent research in CSL at the intersection of computing, communication, control and circuits.”

The research collaborators will investigate and propose high-performance computing (HPC) and machine learning (ML) applications, as well as programming models, for the Xilinx 7nm Versal devices, the industry's first adaptive compute acceleration platform (ACAP). The goal is to create new opportunities in data center and HPC domains, with a focus on increasing the flexibility of the memory hierarchy and exploiting parallelism at a large scale.

“This collaboration is a strong recognition of UIUC’s thought leadership in the field of high-performance computing,” said Ivo Bolsens, CTO at Xilinx. “The demise of Moore’s Law has given rise to the emergence of new parallel and heterogeneous compute architectures such as the Xilinx Versal ACAP technology. This will require breakthrough innovation in compiler technology to unleash the full potential of these new architectures to software developers.  The UIUC team is positioned at the forefront of this research and is best placed to make non-conventional data storages, near-memory computing, and customized hardware accelerators usable for the new, emerging applications.”

Chen said the collaboration arose out of work that was begun four years ago to design compiler/design-automation flow related to field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) and machine-learning workloads.  This work, a collaboration with IBM Research China and the Illinois-IBM C3SR center, won the ICCAD’18 Best Paper Award.  In 2019, a group of C3SR researchers together with a local ML-focused company, Inspirit IoT, joined a global machine-learning hardware design contest, ultimately taking home top prize in both the edge FPGA and GPU categories.

These achievements, which caught the attention of Xilinx executives, are representative of Illinois’ leadership in this area, said ECE Head Bruce Hajek.

“I’m thrilled to see the Xilinx Center of Excellence help enable Illinois researchers continue to shape the future of computing around AI, IoT, and cloud infrastructure,” said Hajek, who is also a CSL researcher.

Xilinx, the inventor of the FPGA (used for everything from video and image processing to military applications), and UIUC are historically linked. Two of the company’s three co-founders are UIUC alumni: James Barnett II and Ross Freeman. Freeman was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for his role in inventing the FPGA.

“It is really gratifying to see our alumni graduate and launch amazing companies that develop life-changing technology,” said Dean Rashid Bashir of Illinois’ Grainger College of Engineering. “And there’s a special pride in welcoming these companies back to campus to partner on new breakthroughs, all while inspiring a new generation of students.”

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This story was published June 3, 2020.