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Paving the Way for Future Datacenter Performance with Security and Power Efficiency

Paving the Way for Future Datacenter Performance with Security and Power Efficiency
Posted 10/19/2022 by Nilesh Narayan, Product Marketing Manager, Lattice Semiconductor

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As public cloud servers and edge computing systems proliferate throughout the datacenter landscape, the importance of security, power efficiency, and overall system performance grows. The rise of IoT and 5G connections demand immense processing capabilities and add pressure to servers like never before. And with quantum computing shaping up to come online by the end of the decade, system designers find themselves tasked with keeping up with these demands as securely and efficiently as possible. FPGAs have proven themselves able to consistently deliver the flexibility and low power management required to keep up in such an agile environment, and they’re only becoming more advanced over time.

For example, Lattice FPGAs in particular have paved the way in advancing FPGA capabilities. The Lattice Mach™ FPGA family is designed for platform management and security, with the newest member - the Lattice MachXO5™-NX - built on the Lattice Nexus™ platform and delivering more advanced system controls to help servers evolve in significant ways.

Paving the Way for Future Datacenter Performance with Security and Power Efficiency - Lattice Security Leadership

Enabling cyber resiliency

With 83% of businesses having experienced firmware attacks in recent years, the need for cyber resiliency is clear. The attack surface is getting larger due to distributed computing, and now includes network, supply chain, and physical attacks. It’s no longer a matter of if organizations will experience an attack, but a matter of when. How they prepare is critical.

For a datacenter to be cyber resilient, it needs to first have proactive measures in place to protect its data. Afterwards it is a matter of detecting incoming attacks and recovering from them while still functioning at the level needed to maintain its service level requirements. Platform Firmware Resiliency (PFR) provides the protect, detect, recover real-time cycle to do so, and starts with leveraging a Hardware Root of Trust (RoT) device such as Lattice MachXO3D™, Mach™-NX, or MachXO5™-NX FPGAs. For a turn-key solution, customers can use Lattice and AMI’s jointly developed solution - Tektagon™ XFR running on a Lattice RoT device.

These FPGAs don’t just detect if malware is present or if a system is under attack, they proactively monitor these systems pre and post-boot. If an attack on firmware is successful, flash devices on the FPGA can load a golden image of the authorized firmware, override the unauthorized version, and ensure recovery of the system. This protect, detect, and recovery cycle of functions is designed in compliance with the NIST SP-800-193 PFR Guidelines.

Lattice AMI Partnership

Lattice FPGAs are commonly used in power control applications on Server platforms. A vast majority of Servers use our FPGAs for system reset and power sequencing. This means that our FPGAs are one of the first devices to power up and last to shut down. Coupling the security features with this "first on, last off" ability makes our security solution virtually bypass-proof. At boot, if a malicious act is detected, our FPGA can hold the system in reset to ensure that the system is brought back to a known good configuration before continuing with the boot sequence, thereby helping prevent the attack from proliferating further. To help our customers secure their components throughout the global supply chain, Lattice offers an award-winning supply chain protection service called Lattice SupplyGuard™. Lattice SupplyGuard is a trailblazing service whereby we provide factory-locked integrated circuits (ICs) that can only be programmed using a configuration bitstream that has been developed, signed, and encrypted by the intended customer. The chips depart the factory completely locked, and only the customer has the required credentials to unlock them, facilitating a strong, one-way, secure ownership transfer.

Paving the Way for Future Datacenter Performance with Security and Power Efficiency - Firmware Resiliency

Beyond the resiliency already built in, FPGAs’ field upgrade capabilities allow system architects to deploy equipment that is ready to handle post-quantum cryptographic algorithms without the need for an all-new tape out, as well as any new security vulnerabilities found after a design is locked.

Leading the way in low power efficiency

On average, servers and cooling systems make up the greatest share of direct electricity usage in U.S. datacenters. As the number of cloud and edge computing servers grows, efficient power management capabilities must be prioritized in server designs not just to keep the cost of power in check, but also to drive sustainability for the future. Lattice FPGAs are designed for power efficiency, serving as a strong foundation for system designers to help consume up to 4X less power compared to similar devices of the same class. This is in part due to the parallel processing capabilities of FPGAs. Instead of relying on a microcontroller or microprocessor that is more power intensive and serial in nature, FPGAs can process multiple functions all at once (aka in parallel), thereby consolidating functions to do more with less power usage. Lattice FPGAs are also up to 10X smaller than similar competitive devices, allowing system designers to create more compact footprints, which can then allow for more overall system efficiency.

For instance, BMC functionality and other components can now be consolidated into FPGAs, giving them more functionality in the same low power, small form factor package. FPGAs could be programmed with adaptive fan algorithms and predictive maintenance capability. These algorithms would ramp cooling fans up or down depending on their workloads so that the energy is efficiently used. They could also monitor the lifespan of the fans themselves to keep track of when they need to be replaced before they go out completely and adjust power distribution if other fans need to pick up the slack. Lattice Nexus™ based FPGAs are also built to have very low soft error rates, in part due to the FD-SOI process technology they’re based on, helping systems operate more reliably.

These benefits are not just important when it comes to driving sustainability, but are also valuable for the overall operation of datacenters. In addition to risk of malicious attacks, extreme weather events are a top cause for outages and disruptions, with 45 percent of datacenters in the U.S. reporting they’ve experienced such an event that threatened their ability to operate. It is vital that system designers take all threat vectors into consideration when developing a new design by building safety capabilities into the lowest power, smallest form factor possible.

Improving overall system performance

The power efficient system controls and cyber resiliency FPGAs provide are a start for datacenters to improve their overall operational performance. To accelerate datacenters’ processing capabilities, FPGAs can effectively offload workloads typically processed by the CPU – freeing it up to allocate its resources more efficiently.

In addition to the benefits provided by our current FPGA portfolio, our upcoming innovative mid-range FPGA platform -Lattice Avant™ - will significantly expand our product portfolio and enable us to address new applications across our focus markets, including datacenter systems, and open new opportunities for our customers’ designs. To learn more, be sure to attend the virtual Lattice Avant Launch Event on December 5, 2022.