Jason J. Gullickson

Jason J. Gullickson

Capo de Kappa

A few years back I began working on a dynamic computing platform based on Javascript.  The idea came to me when a cluster of nodes I was using to perform media processing grew large enough that updating the code on them became a multi-hour endeavor.  It occurred to me that instead of simply delivering the job data to each node, the code it executes could be delivered via the same queue, and this way the software on each node could consist of nothing more than an operating system and a runtime (in this case, Node.js).

This led to the question of administration in general, and I started to design a way to deploy & manage nodes using the same mechanism, so that a fleet of nodes could be managed by simply placing jobs in the queue.  Of course this led to re-evaluating the queue, so on and so forth.

In the end I designed an architecture I called “JS/OS” and did some experiments.  Ultimately I didn’t implement this as a solution to the task at hand (some other emergency preempted completing the work) but a number of interesting architectural patters became apparent when I explored this approach.

Today as I study data science and the architectures for “big data” systems, what I see are the infant forms of the systems I was designing for JS/OS, and what’s exciting is that there was an even more exotic idea which derived from that work that might be applicable to contemporary streaming “Kappa” architectures.

Once, in a meeting where I was discussing the idea of having dynamic code on processing nodes some exceptions came up about node hardware and media processing limitations of the inexpensive computers we were experimenting with.  Thinking along these lines I proposed that using a hybrid ARM/FPGA- based machine might address this because an FPGA codec implementation could provide hardware assistance.  This train of thought led to thinking “could we make the FPGA’s code dynamic as well?”, which in turn led to the thought “What about a cloud of FPGA’s?”

I thought this was fascinating, but the missing component was making FPGA programming accessible to the average programmer.  I won’t try to explain why here, but the key difference is that FPGA logic happens immediately, signals go in, signals come out.  This is a lot different from how software tends to work, with internal state, looping structures, etc.  So a cloud of FPGA’s would be cool, but it would require specialized programming skills (and a skill-set that most cloud-oriented developers lack).

But what if we could make it approachable?  There is some design overlap between the stateless design patterns popularized by work centered on implementing REST API’s in Node.js.  If you could describe FPGA programming in these terms, it’s conceivable that typical programmers could take some advantage of an FPGA cloud.

However even this seemed too specialized to pursue, and in any event, there was another emergency to deal with so I set it aside.

This is the part of the story where it all comes together.

While studying Hadoop and other big-data processing architectures I started to see similarities to the problems and solutions I had explored while working on JS/OS.  Furthermore, the stream orientation of kappa architecture systems dovetail nicely into the stateless, stream-oriented approach I had in mind for applications suitable for a “cloud of FPGA’s”.  This being the case, an FPGA- enabled JS/OS might not just be a suitable platform for kappa architectures, but it could provide orders of magnitude leaps in performance, if it can be realized to its potential.

I’m going to set this thought on the back burner (but still on “simmer”) while I continue to study the current state of big-data infrastructure, but if nothing I learn invalidates the idea, I might invest some time in revisiting JS/OS, even if it means changing the name due to implementation details 😃