Add this to the growing list of things people are counting on FPGAs for: "greening" the web by enabling faster searches using less power.
Using a special system featuring Xilinx FPGAs, a team of researchers from the University of Glasgow was able to search a document index 20 times faster than a system that uses a standard processor, according to the university.
A university spokesman said the research was implemented on an SGI Altix 4700 machine hosting two RC100 blades each containing two Xilinx Virtex-4 LX200 FPGAs running at 100 Mhz.
The university researchers think they can develop the system further and hope to see it used in web servers to speed up internet searches, reducing the energy and carbon cost of search engine requests.
Internet searches using engines such as Google and Yahoo produce CO2 emissions from the power required to run a user's computer and also through the electricity consumed by the massive banks of servers and cooling plants housed in data centers throughout the world. The University of Glasgow said estimates for the amount of CO2 generated by a single search request ranges from between 0.2g of CO2 per search, according to Google, to 7g per search, according to physicist Alex Wissner-Gross of Harvard University.
As part of a project with a Vienna-based company called Matrixware, the team of researchers at Glasgow used the Xilinx FPGAs to perform the information retrieval and filtering algorithms for a document database. The FPGAs were programmed using tools developed by the Swedish company Mitrionics, the university said.
The researchers found that the FPGA system was up to 20 times quicker in returning results compared to a dual-core Intel Itanium-2 processor. They also reported that the FPGAs used just a fraction of the power, with the Itanium processor consuming 130 watts compared to the FPGAs using just 1.25 watts each.
A paper on this research, titled "FGPA-accelerated information retrieval: high-efficiency document filtering," was presented at the International Conference on Field Programmable Logic and Applications in Prague this week, according to the University of Glasgow.
More information on this research can be found on the University of Glasgow's website.