The HSA (Heterogeneous System Architecture) Foundation, known as the “HSAF”, is an open, industry standard consortium founded to define and deliver open standards and tools for hardware and software to fully take advantage of high performance of parallel compute engines, and do so in the lowest possible power envelope. This new environment will enable rich new user experiences never been seen before, and done at incredibly low power.
The HSAF aims to simplify and optimize parallel programming of high-performance, low power heterogeneous computing architectures including CPUs, GPUs, APUs and DSP (Digital Signal Processor). The foundation intends to literally change the hardware for participating members to suit the millions of mainstream programmers, different from many other industry approaches that can result in daunting programming challenges and applicability only to high performance computing and workstation workloads. For software, the HSAF will take the simplified hardware and create new software with the ultimate goal of plugging into the most popular, novice programmer development environments. This would then result in opening up heterogeneous computing to tens of millions of programmers.
By aligning the interests of its founding members, AMD, ARM, Imagination Technologies, MediaTek, Qualcomm, Samsung, and Texas Instruments (TI), this new ecosystem will combine scalar processing on the CPU with GPUs and DSPs parallel processing for SoC (system on chip) silicon vendors, SoC IP building block vendors, OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturer), OSVs (Operating System Vendors), ISVs (Independent Software Vendors) and academia. The HSA will ultimately drive innovation into the future of billions of multi-core devices, spanning from futuristic devices like smart watches and room computers, to today’s innovations in smartphones, tablets, PCs, TVs, to giant cloud server installations.
Alternative approaches do exist to HSAF like NVIDIA’s CUDA, focused on specific and proprietary NVIDIA hardware. HSAF aims to build tools that are simpler and that work across AMD, ARM Imagination Technologies, MediaTek, Qualcomm, Samsung and Texas Instruments hardware.
The HSA Foundation champions a long-term, industry-standard approach to solving today’s challenges in harnessing the massive raw performance in parallel computing in the lowest power envelope. This open standard will span a wide breadth of devices from smart watches to smart phones to PCs to enterprise servers, and everything in between. The founders recognize both the challenges and the opportunities presented by parallel computing and seek to change the thinking of traditional approaches by “bending” the hardware to fit the software. One of the group’s most important tasks are to create an industry standard for unified memory which sees the CPU, GPU and DSP as equal citizens. This in itself will simplify programming and the development of those programming tools significantly.
Founders AMD, ARM, Imagination Technologies, MediaTek, Qualcomm, Samsung, and Texas Instruments will pool its resources and experience in CPUs, GPUs, DSPs and SoCs to develop a specification for hardware and software upon which they intend to drive into the markets with the support from the HSA ecosystem. The foundation has already opened its doors to promoters, supporters, contributors, academics, and associates to leverage the ecosystem even more.
The HSAF goals are lofty and come with the risks generally associated with most industry standard groups. These risks have been mitigated but not eliminated with goal-aligned participants who have enough market size to drive the standard, the resources to execute the deliverables, and the urgency to do it as quickly as possible. The author believes right now, the industry’s alternative comes down to keeping the status quo with complex programming suitable only for Ninja programmers. In that scenario, it would be impossible to achieve the vision the HSAF has laid out.
The HSAF is off to a positive start and was able to leverage the 36 months of development time before the official launch in June 2012 as evidenced by delivery of a draft memory specification. Per the HSAF, the next major milestone will be agreement on the hardware specification. If this can be done over the next 6 months, this would enable HSA-compliant hardware to be in the hands of software developers in 18 months and this would be a very positive sign for the HSAF.
[thanks to @StreamComputing for the link!]