HSAHSA computing standards have progressed significantly since the HSA Foundation (HSAF) was established in 2012. Today, for instance, there are not only royalty free open specifications available but also fully operational production systems.

In this Q&A, Dr. John Glossner, HSA Foundation president, provides additional insights on HSA-specific trends and issues:

What are the connections/differences between heterogeneous computing, general purpose computing and specialized computing? If heterogeneous computing is the future, what will happen to general purpose computing and specialized computing?

General purpose computing is what you find in a CPU. It is meant to be able to process any function but streaming data, like artificial intelligence (AI), might not always be efficiently processed on a CPU.

Specialized computing would be a design made for one particular application such as AI but it would not be intended to run general purpose code (sometimes called control code). The specialized accelerator typically has the advantage that it is much lower power to execute the special purpose application (e.g., AI).

Heterogeneous computing combines the best of both. It specifies how a CPU can talk to an accelerator and often finds both integrated onto the same silicon die. So heterogeneous processors, meaning different types – such as CPUs, GPUs, DSPs, specialized accelerators and others, are all integrated together and cooperate to achieve an ideal balance of performance and power consumption for a given application.

What is the ultimate goal for the HSAF? How and what need to be done to achieve this?

The goal of the HSA Foundation is to make heterogeneous programming easier. That means creating standards that allow different types of processors to be programmed in the same language, using one single source file, and then automatically distributing parts of the application to the best processor to do the computing.

If research institutions and companies participate in establishing and promoting the standards of heterogeneous computing, will it affect their current development and solutions?

With open specifications and open source implementations of standards and tools, the Foundation’s hope is that it accelerates the pace of development and adoption of the technology. Corporations participating in HSAF enjoy royalty free access to all technologies developed.

The Foundation announced the formation of the China Regional Committee (CRC) in May. What were the motivations and goals in establishing the CRC and what is the connection/differences between CRC standards and HSA standards?

While the HSA Foundation has made a lot of progress there are always regional considerations and research opportunities to improve current systems. Recently China has become a leader in AI and other semiconductor technologies. With the emergence of low latency applications such as AI and virtual reality (VR) the Foundation anticipates improvements to current specifications. As this is an area of research and development being led by China, it is natural to invite key scientists and companies from China to adopt and adapt technologies and specifications.

How many local organizations have joined the CRC? What are members’ perspectives?

More than 30 members have joined the CRC to date. They comprise semiconductor companies, research universities and institutes (e.g., Chinese Academy of Sciences), tools and algorithms designers, test verification, and China standardization groups.

What effects will in-depth research and development of heterogeneous computing standards and technologies have on promoting China’s semiconductor industry advances?

China has become a global leader in semiconductor development and algorithms such as AI that execute on semiconductor chips. Heterogeneous systems that are now emerging are expected to accelerate R&D throughout the global industry. The formation of the CRC and future global adoption of the work done by the CRC should advance China’s semiconductor industry as well as contribute to worldwide growth.

What are the implications of developing and promoting heterogeneous computing standards for the creation of China’s heterogeneous computing industry chain and ecosystem?

While the algorithms that the CRC is evaluating are of immediate concern within China, it is expected that the entire global community and ecosystem will benefit from the standardization work being performed by the CRC.

Do heterogeneous computing chips have a wide range of AI applications? What are the specific advantages?

Heterogeneous chips have the potential to dramatically reduce the electric power to perform AI applications. When programs are optimized for specialized heterogeneous systems, each processor in the system can execute code that is most power efficient for its own function. This provides higher performance at lower power than non-heterogeneous systems.

What should China do to rapidly cultivate the heterogeneous computing industry?

By participating in the HSAF CRC, China can adapt and adopt technologies related to heterogeneous systems for China-specific issues. However, it is anticipated that these enhancements will be integrated into global HSAF specifications because the problems are common to many semiconductor companies.