What is Microsoft’s Project Volterra?

Burning the candle at both ends in the UK I followed along with as many sessions as possible from this year’s Microsoft Build conference. While my primary focus has and always will be on the Data Platform tech. I couldn’t help but take note when Satayla Nednella introduced Project Volterra. The small boxes shown in the image below between the two monitors.

Prior to this announcement in my current day-to-day life, working with mostly Azure PaaS offerings I had never encountered the abbreviation NPU. Initially I dismissed it as network processing unit. Something related to fast connectivity. Wrong!

NPU stands for Neural Processing Unit. Also known as a Neural Network Processors (NNP).

What’s that?!… This is therefore one of those blogs that I write to help gather my own thoughts. I’m certainly not a hardware person anymore, so why would our workstations need a CPU, GPU and now NPU?

My current understanding, is that an NPU is new hardware dedicated to the handling artificial intelligence (AI) workloads…

  • Our limited large core, many tasks CPU architecture can do almost anything, although not very efficiently.
  • Our many small core, limited task GPU architecture can handle lots and lots flowing point numbers. Like changing pixels on a display, for example.
  • For NPUs we need many parallel threads operating as collections and controlled as a group. As I understand it anyway!

To bring this back to Project Volterra. Microsoft are entering the hardware market again with this small desktop box containing all three processor types and configurable as stackable set, apparently. I have no idea what the collective noun is for a stack of Volterra’s. Which after a quick Google turns out is also a town in Tuscany.

It seems we will have to wait until later in the year before we hear more from Microsoft on this. My guess would be another announcement will land at the Ignite conference.

If you missed Build, check out the link to the event above and watch the bit about Volterra 24mins 30seconds into the keynote.

Regardless of my understanding, its a new gadget, it looks cool, and I want one 🙂

Maybe, for now, it’ll efficiently blur the background of my messy office when sharing my webcam in a Teams meeting.

Many thanks for reading

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