Vertically Integrated Computing Labs Using Open-Source Hardware Generators and Cloud-Hosted FPGAs
The design of computing systems has changed dramatically over the past decade, but most courses in advanced computer architecture remain unchanged. Computer architecture education lies at the intersection between computer science and electrical engineering, with practical exercises in classes based on appropriate levels of abstraction in the computing system design stack. Hardware-centric lab exercises often require broad infrastructure resources and tend to navigate around tedious practical implementation concepts, while software-centric exercises leave a gap between modeling and system implementation implications that students later need to overcome in professional settings. Vertical integration trends in domain-specific compute systems, as well as software-hardware co-design, are often covered in classroom lectures, but are not reflected in laboratory exercises due to complex tooling and simulation infrastructure. We describe our experiences with a joint hardware-software approach to exploring computer architecture concepts in class exercises, by using open- source processor hardware implementations, generator-based hardware design methodologies, and cloud-hosted FPGAs. This approach further enables scaling course enrollment, remote learning and a cross-class collaborative lab ecosystem, creating a connecting thread between computer science and electrical engineering experience-based curricula.