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Graphcore Up and Running

December 10, 2019

Author: Linley Gwennap

After taking nearly a year to tune its software, Graphcore is finally taking the wraps off its C2 deep-learning accelerator. Microsoft will deploy the card in its Azure Cloud service, allowing users to remotely train and execute neural networks. Dell EMC, an investor in the startup, will sell the DSS 8440, a 4U server that incorporates up to eight C2 cards. Other initial customers include European search provider Qwant, global investment firm Citadel, and the Imperial College of London’s vision lab. The Azure Cloud offering is now in a limited preview.

Graphcore last year revealed its Colossus chip and C2 PCIe card, which contains two of the massive chips, and it announced production in December. But then the company went dark for several months, disclosing no further progress, no customers, and no benchmark results. During that period, it strove to extend its software stack to support the applications of early-access customers and to optimize performance on these applications. The optimizations include model sharding and pipelining to divide large models among several chips. Fortunately, Graphcore has raised more than $300 million, so it could easily weather this delay.

In addition to customers, the startup disclosed some initial performance data. A DSS 8440 system with seven C2 cards trained the Bert-base model in 56 hours. According to Graphcore, this training time is about the same as for an Nvidia system with eight GPUs. Both the C2 and Nvidia’s V100 card are rated at 300W TDP, so the power savings from one less card is about 12%.

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