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Computational Storage Devices: Offloading CPUs of Compute-Intense Operations

By Dick Weisinger

As the end of Moore’s Law loom just ahead, alternatives to speeding up processing are being investigated. One of those techniques is to offload computationally intensive tasks to specialized hardware.

Increasingly smart storage devices are being built that not only store data, but also perform additional processing on data, like encryption, security, and search.

Tong Zhang, Chief Scientist at ScaleFlux, said that “Computational storage drives internally dedicate a number of embedded CPUs (e.g., ARM cores) for serving drive IO, and dedicate a certain number of embedded CPUs and domain-specific hardware engines (e.g., compression, security, searching, AI/ML, multimedia) for serving computational tasks.”

Search is one area where computational storage shines. Steven Woo, fellow and distinguished inventor at Rambus, said that “there will be disks and disks full of data, and you may only need one or two pieces of it, but all of it has to be searched. The conventional way to do this is to take everything in the disk, transfer it to a CPU, and then the CPU is going to search through everything and throw away 99.999% of all that. A lot of the work it’s doing is actually wasted. Alternatively, there may be an array of disks, and the system is set up to transfer all the data in parallel, so it comes faster. But in the end, there’s still just one CPU searching for the data, which is the bottleneck.”

Zhang wrote in a piece for InfoWorld, that “the need for CPU off-loading naturally calls for computational storage drives. Storage-centric computation tasks (in particular compression and encryption) are the most convenient pickings, or low-hanging fruit, for computational storage drives. Their computation-intensive and fixed-function nature renders compression or encryption perfectly suited for being implemented as customized hardware engines inside computational storage drives.”

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