And Now or Something Completely Different: Star Bridge Systems


I continue my tour of Utah high-tech firms. I see two to three people or companies per day on average and have been thoroughly enjoying it. Today I met with a company called Star Bridge Systems.. They make software for programming arrays of FPGAs into special purpose computers. Some of their claims would be completely unbelievable if they didn't have people like NASA and the NSA giving them credibility. They seem to be in pretty good shape, version technology, lean operations, and paying customers.

If you've read the article in Red Herring about the Tyranny of Moore's Law (not online yet), I think you'll see a corollary here. We mostly hear Moore's Law quoted as "speed doubles every 18 months." But speed is only one factor. Its equally true that the same speed CPU (or same sized memory) costs half as much. The world doesn't necessarily need faster computers, it needs ways to use the cheaper computers together. What Star Bridge (by the way---I hate that name) does is allow gangs of FPGAs to be used in place of supercomputers. The speed gains are phenomenal.

The heart of the Star Bridge technology is a iconic language called Viva that replaces VHDL and can be compiled to FPGA configuration files directly without the help of a designer who is a VHDL expert. You code your algorithm in Viva, compile it, and you've now got a special purpose computer that runs that algorithm and that algorithm only. Viva accepts description files for the target FPGA array so that it can be used with any FPGA array you happen to have (the Air Force, for example uses a two-FPGA array in a number of sub systems in various jets, missiles, etc.) I've done my share of VHDL coding and this seems like a dream to me. I'm hoping to go back soon and try my hand at it.