Intel Unveils Deep Learning Framework, BigDL

By Alex Woodie

January 20, 2017

Chip giant Intel last week rolled out a new deep learning framework that runs as a Spark job atop Hadoop. Called BigDL, the open source software is designed to take advantage of hardware acceleration capabilities that Intel has built into its Xeon CPUs.

BigDL, which Intel released on Github, is modeled after Torch, an open source deep learning framework used in scientific computing. Intel says the framework supports numeric computing via Tensor, as well as high level neural networks, and can be used to run prebuilt Caffe and Torch models on Spark.

While many deep learning frameworks today leverage GPUs, Intel is taking a different route with BigDL, for obvious reasons. The new framework uses Intel’s Math Kernel Library (MKL), which enables the workload to execute as a multi-threaded Spark job and take full advantage of the multi-threading extensions Intel’s Xeon processors.

All this adds up to fast execution of deep learning workloads, the company says. In fact, Intel says BigDL can run “orders of magnitude faster than out-of-box open source Caffe, Torch, or TensorFlow on a single-node Xeon” processor. That makes it “comparable with mainstream GPU,” the chip giant says.

Intel says the new framework will be useful for analyzing large amounts of data on Hadoop or Spark clusters, or for adding deep learning functionality to existing Spark applications or workflows.It will also be useful, the company says, when a user wants to use share the results of deep learning workloads with other applications running on Hadoop or Spark clusters, such as ETL, data warehouses, feature engineering, “classical machine learning,” or graph analytics.

Intel is waging a war for big data dominance against GPUs, and the delivery of BigDL to the open source community figures to play a part. In November, the company outlined its hardware strategy for giving developers more powerful tools for building artificial intelligence applications.

The company says it will test the first AI-specific hardware, code-named “Lake Crest,” in the first half of 2017, with limited availability later in the year. The company also announced another new product, code-named “Knights Crest,” that will integrate its Xeon processors with the technology it obtained with its August acquisition of Nervana Systems, which developed deep learning products

For more information, see the BigDL entry at github.com/intel-analytics/BigDL.

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