Q&A with Charles MacFarlane, VP of Marketing and Director at Codeplay Software


AI innovator Codeplay Software will enable the US government’s next-generation supercomputer, and Codeplay‘s Charles MacFarlane, VP of Marketing and Director, sat down with us to discuss high-performance computing and his vision for 2021.

  1.       Describe what your company does in 256 characters (a Tweet’s length)

The AI and HPC industries are evolving to embrace standards for deployed programming that are agreed upon throughout the industry. Codeplay is a leader in SYCL technologies and provides products and services to democratize a full AI ecosystem.

  1.       How did you get involved in this industry?

Codeplay started in 2002, creating developer tools for the gaming market. Today, much of AI development is accelerated on graphics processors (GPUs), so there has been a natural evolution from supporting game developers on GPUs to AI developers on GPUs. Codeplay strongly embraced the need for industry-agreed open standards, avoiding proprietary lock-in development restrictions and allowing processor systems to benefit from the extensive ecosystem used by application developers.

  1.       What made you think of the idea/what inspired you to create your technology?

AI has been around for many years, but recently, the solutions have become achievable thanks to the growth in processor architectures and speeds, with software standards and use cases touching every market segment. These include all areas of science—from driver-assist systems in cars to mobile phones and smart watches. AI is everywhere, and the latest software solutions are a necessity to democratize it.

  1.       How is this going to benefit people/society?

Massive data sets are generated from almost every device today, from watches and phones to computers and cars. These huge data sources need to be digested and analyzed, with their resulting decisions and reactions. There are therefore so many areas in society that will be affected, including the biggest supercomputers in the world, medicine, the weather, nuclear and physics. Cars are learning how to drive thanks to both simulations and real on-car sensors (such as cameras and radars). This saves lives and makes cars much safer, ultimately bringing autonomous cars to the roads.

We all experience the benefits, from our phone or home speaker understanding our voice, internet searches with smart results, or websites providing tuned results. AI is all around us, and it will be rapidly enabled and deployed thanks to Codeplay technologies.

  1.       What’s innovative about your company and technology?

Codeplay is very much a leader, defining and deploying middleware software and tools to democratize AI development. The SYCL standard is one of the biggest disrupters for AI and HPC systems going forward, with Codeplay being the strongest ambassador for many years, including chairing the SYCL open standard group.

Codeplay was the first to have a conformant release of SYCL and provides a product called ComputeCpp, which is licensed out. This is closed-source and contains Codeplay’s IP for improved overall performance.

  1.       How, in your opinion, has your industry changed in the past 5 years?

It has in two ways. The first is the massive number of hardware processor solutions to accelerate AI and HPC, with special architectures and memory movement, and not limited to GPUs. The second is the growth and adoption of special frameworks to support developers. The pace of AI evolution and the lack of alignment between hardware and software needs have created lots of developer headaches, wasted porting activities, and slow adoption of alternative systems. It’s well understood that Nvidia dominates these markets, and competition is reacting aggressively to provide alternatives.

  1.       What has COVID done to your company/industry? Has it been affected? Does your solution assist with the pandemic?

Supercomputers are used to simulate the virus, and scientists have certainly benefited from executing their algorithms and operations at very fast speeds to help create a vaccine. This year, supercomputers will achieve 1018 (billion billion) operations per second. These systems are extremely powerful and benefit from software libraries and frameworks enabled by programming platforms like SYCL.

  1.       Describe the future of your industry. What does the future hold? What is society going to look like?

Software is already the bigger portion of system development, and hardware acceleration with faster data handling continues to evolve. The future is certainly dominated by software and the need to run this across heterogeneous processor systems specially tuned for each environment.  

In the spirit of openness, the RISC-V based processors are gaining incredible attention, providing a more open and available hardware enabler. Codeplay is embracing these solutions to ensure AI developers can benefit from this new breed of processors.

  1.       What plans do you have coming up?

Codeplay is already enabling systems from US supercomputers to automotive. But the adoption is at the bottom of a hockey-stick curve, with medicine, energy and fintech all poised to embrace non-proprietary solutions. Codeplay will deepen its active markets and broaden into new markets as they demand openness, flexibility, and reduced time-to-market.

  1.   What would your advice be for people trying to get into your industry?

The growth in AI is huge and exciting. It embraces everything from processor design to exciting software applications in all market segments. Software is everywhere, mostly based on C++, and AI is everywhere, so get involved as soon as possible.



Charles Macfarlane

Charles MacFarlane is Chief Business Officer and Director and has been with Codeplay since 2014 . He is responsible for sales, marketing and business development. Charles graduated from Glasgow University with an honours degree in Electronic Systems and Microprocessor Engineering. Charles then followed a career doing ASIC chip design in GEC Plessey Semiconductors and Pioneer, applications engineering and marketing with VLSI/Philips/NXP in South France, and product marketing director with Broadcom® in Cambridge for mobile multimedia solutions used by Nokia®, Samsung® and Raspberry Pi®.