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Fluid: Raising the Level of Abstraction for FPGA Accelerator Development Without Compromising Performance

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posted on 02.06.2022, 21:35 authored by Joseph MelberJoseph Melber

The unrestricted freedom presented to hardware accelerator developers by the inherently reconfigurable fabric of Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) gives rise to highly optimized and efficient architectures. However, correctly navigating this same vast freedom is what makes hardware design difficult. Adding to this challenge, modern FPGAs continue to grow in logic capacity, and offer rich and varied memory and communication interfaces. FPGA accelerator developers need the same ease-of-development support software programmers have come to expect—through abstraction—to manage this complexity. 

In current FPGA development flows, the lack of abstractions and proper tooling encouraging composition, encapsulation and code reuse leads to unnecessarily long development cycles. Hardware developers must manually adapt their accelerators for new platforms or, at worst, rewrite them. To address those challenges, so far, FPGA abstractions give disproportionate emphasis to reducing the design effort for algorithmic processing kernels rather than to the memory and communication architecture side of the design task. Designers are asked to build all of the datapaths for buffering, data movements, and external interfaces, as well as the state machines to coordinate these datapath activities. Bus-level integration and design abstractions remain the state-of-the-art for designing memory and communication infrastructure. Furthermore, such datapaths are often ad-hoc efforts and are not generally reusable.

This thesis presents Fluid, an FPGA-aware modular design methodology that enables higher levels of abstraction for memory, communication and system architecture. Fluid draws inspiration from service-oriented architecture concepts developed for cloud computing to separate functionality from implementation in hardware design. The Fluid design methodology encourages a decoupled design paradigm where accelerator developers are relieved of memory and communication logic within their modules. Fluid’s service abstraction begins at a module’s boundary. It defines a clean interface that logically decouples components in a design and enables flexible infrastructure implementations outside of the module’s scope. This design methodology reduces FPGA hardware development costby removing infrastructure from a designer’s modules and enabling them to architect their accelerator at a high level without RTL redevelopment or compromising performance.

Fluid encapsulates high level memory abstractions as services that provide designers starting points higher than bus interfaces and standard DMA IPs. Fluid also raises the level of abstraction for communication; the designer’s modules communicate with service modules through logically point-to-point channels and a message passing standard. Fluid’s design methodology enables layers of abstraction for accelerator architects, service library designers, and infrastructure designers. Fluid (1) absorbs the complexity of memory and communication infrastructure from designers’ modules without increasing overhead or compromising performance, (2) enables higher levels of abstraction for hardware design by decoupling functionality from implementation, and (3) supports designers to flexibly compose accelerator systems on FPGAs at a high level with transparent control over implementation details. This thesis creates a working Fluid design framework equipped with a catalog of services.

These services are available as an extensible library of parameterizable, composable hardware modules implementing high-level and primitive building-block functionalities. Fluid’s design framework provides a communication infrastructure library to flexibly compose, connect and place services across memory and compute devices. Designers build complete accelerators with a high level design framework that enables maintainable and expressive descriptions of their design. Fluid enables designers to abstractly specify their designs at a high level maintaining control over the implementation details. Designers use Fluid’s programming interface to compose a service-oriented design and generate the necessary infrastructure between modules. Using this framework, we complete an evaluation of Fluid’s merits through the design and implementation of a series of applications.

The evaluation demonstrates the programmability benefits Fluid facilitates by separating specification from implementation for FPGA hardware development. Fluid’s methodology increases design flexibility and convenience without increasing resource utilization or reducing performance—even for large, high-performance applications.




Degree Type



Electrical and Computer Engineering

Degree Name

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


James C. Hoe

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