Today you can hold a slew of com­puters in the palm of your hand. Smart­phones, said David Kaeli, a vir­tu­al­iza­tion tech­nology expert and pro­fessor of elec­trical and com­puter engi­neering at North­eastern, inte­grate pro­grams such as browsers, appli­ca­tions, graphics, and cel­lular com­mu­ni­ca­tion, each of which may require a dif­ferent hard­ware device to power it effi­ciently. But hand­held devices are just the begin­ning. This so-​​called “het­ero­ge­neous com­puting,” wherein dif­ferent pieces of hard­ware need to com­mu­ni­cate with one another seam­lessly to be suc­cessful, is per­vading the entire tech­nology sphere.

From per­sonal com­mu­ni­ca­tions to bio­med­ical instru­men­ta­tion to cyber­se­cu­rity strate­gies, het­ero­ge­neous com­puting is becoming ubiq­ui­tous. The only problem, Kaeli said, is that there is no stan­dard for inte­grating the dif­ferent parts. Each com­mer­cial entity comes up with its own strategy, leaving our devices to sort through an ad-​​hoc jumble of conversations—as if a group of people were speaking two dif­ferent lan­guages but using a dozen dif­ferent dic­tio­naries and trans­la­tors to get their points across.

What we’ve done in this area has helped advance pro­gram­ming envi­ron­ments that make design het­ero­ge­neous com­puting sys­tems easier,” said Kaeli, who was recently named a Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor by the Het­ero­ge­neous Sys­tems Archi­tec­ture Foun­da­tion, a non­profit con­sor­tium of ven­dors, aca­d­e­mics, and orig­inal equip­ment man­u­fac­turers ded­i­cated to bringing HSA-​​enabled soft­ware solu­tions to market. Since each of the devices that need to talk to each other are designed by com­peting orga­ni­za­tions, cre­ating a stan­dard of design is easier said than done.

HSA is pro­viding a space for these com­pa­nies to begin the con­ver­sa­tion; through the con­sor­tium, they can work col­lab­o­ra­tively to define the most effec­tive inte­gra­tion strate­gies. “HSA is an attempt to unify the ability for all these devices to interact seam­lessly,” Kaeli said.

He said the biggest chal­lenge lies in building a common memory system under­lying the col­lec­tion of devices and pro­grams. “A key ele­ment of this is being able to allow devices to com­mu­ni­cate, and they do that through a common memory system,” he explained. “The memory is used for storing your pro­gram and your data, but also for device communication.”

In fact, Kaeli co-​​authored the book on using open pro­gram­ming lan­guages for het­ero­ge­neous com­puting. In order to arrive at a working archi­tec­ture, he said com­peti­tors would have to engage in open and inclu­sive con­ver­sa­tions. Com­pa­nies such as AMD, Qual­comm, Sam­sung, and Analog Devices, with whom Kaeli has col­lab­o­rated for sev­eral years, are moving in this direc­tion by joining forces with HSA.

In col­lab­o­ra­tion with HSA Foun­da­tion mem­bers, Kaeli’s work has demon­strated the need for a stan­dard­ized approach to device com­mu­ni­ca­tion within het­ero­ge­neous com­puting envi­ron­ments. The foun­da­tion, which was estab­lished in 2012, hopes to have its first stan­dard released later this year.