April 20

Chidamber Kulkarni – rENIAC, FPGAs & Database Acceleration #50

Developer, Founder, Hardware Engineering



Chidamber has been working on various aspects of FPGA technology for 16+ years now. In the last 5-6 years his primary focus has been acceleration of database and related technologies. Chidamber is a founder & CTO of Reniac Inc, a company that specializes in database acceleration with FPGAs.

Prior to Reniac, Chidamber was at Xilinx for 9 years as a design engineer.

Chidamber has a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the Katholieke, a research university in Belgium.

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Episode Summary

“We are getting larger and larger chips. But the power density is something that has been almost constant for the last 5 or 7 years. That has been a limitation, and that’s why they started scaling the number of cores in one chip. GPUs did that almost 10 years before the processors and the reason they had to do it is because they discovered parallelism in rendering. So they already had  64 cores and 128 cores by the time the uni-core became the dual core.”

“So there’s literally 100 X that you can get with FPGAs. But the effort required to realize that implementation today is still quite high. The challenge for FPGA vendors is how to make that programming easier.”

“Skill is very important, but I think skill can be learned. What cannot be transplanted easily is aptitude and motivation.”

—Chidamber Kulkarni

In this episode we’ll cover:

  1. Why did Chidamber leave academia for the FPGA space?
  2. What is the difference between CPUs, GPUs, and FPGAs?
  3. When did Chidamber start rENIAC? Why did he choose to dive into accelerating open source databases?

Key Milestones

[1:55] – Chidamber got his undergrad degree in India for electrical engineering. He chose to further his education in Belgium and get his Ph.D. there where he learned from a great professor.
[4:05] –  After becoming a researcher at the University of California at Berkley, Kulkarni got the opportunity to build the first generation of network processors at Xilinx. Xilinx works in the FPGA space.

[7:05] – Chidamber recalls deciding between staying in academia after getting his post-doc at UC Berkley and going into the corporate world. Although he was very drawn to doing research, upon further investigation he realized that staying in academia meant spending a large percentage of time fundraising.

[11:45] – Chidamber is at an intersection of hardware engineering, electrical engineering and software engineering. He explains why GPUs and FPGAs are going to be an essential part of computing going forward
[17:01] – What is the difference between CPUs, GPUs, and FPGAs?

[18:45] – How does the day to day of a hardware engineer differ from that of a software engineer? Why do FPGA implementation tools take a very long time to run?
[24:08] – When did Chidamber start rENIAC? Why did he choose to dive into accelerating open source databases?

[27:00] – How does Chidamber go about hiring for his team. The x-factors for him are aptitude and motivation. Skill is something that can be taught to the right person.
[29:30] – Being in the space of FPGAs and databases is tricky because there are a lot of other players coming into this market and you have to be aware of them.

Additional Resources

Learn more about field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) –https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Field-programmable_gate_array

Learn more about Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ENIAC

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