WORA for real this time?

HSA to bring native JVM parallel acceleration to Java 9

Chris Mayer

Java is set for a GPU boost with the chip maker consortium announcing parallelism plans for the Java Virtual Machine.

In this multicore age, the demands an application places on the
software and hardware continue to grow. As such, the idea of
Mechanical Sympathy, as espoused by Martin Thompson, becomes ever
more important – that Java developers must get
the language and underlying platform working together in

Plenty of companies have twigged in recent months that Java may
not be the most well-equipped language to deal with multicore
machines or virtualised systems. Thus, new initiatives have
appeared to eke extra performance benefits out of hardware for

The most promising pursuit thus far appears to
be from the HSA Foundation (
Heterogeneous System
, a collective of chip makers seeking to
“create an open specification that allows software to be written
once and deployed across any type of device.”

This bold catch-all mantra may sound familiar to
Java developers, being the original intention for the
object-oriented language when it first appeared in 1995. JVM
developers will likely testify that Java hasn’t lived up to its
initial lofty pledge, with plenty of masking needed for Java code
to reach a GPU processor.

At the recent
Hot Chips Conference
, the consortium showed
just how serious they are, by announcing plans to bring native
support for parallel acceleration for Java virtual machines in time
for Java 9 in 2015. With the specification implemented, parallel
algorithms can be executed without any extra Java code.

“Ultimately the parallel acceleration belongs in
the Java virtual machine, and hopefully that is where it will
HSA Foundation president and AMD Corporate
Fellow, Phil
told attendees

The HSA Foundation was created last year,
bringing together hardware heavyweights such as
Samsung, Qualcomm, and ARM, amongst other companies. Essentially
the HSA Foundation is a group of competitors to the two big hitters
Intel and Nividia, who are not backing the venture.

This isn’t the first attempt to harness further
GPU power for Java, with Oracle and AMD announcing

Project Sumatra in August 2012
, a sponsored
effort with similar goals to HSA.
The project
will demonstrate the performance
advantages of offloading compute to GPU, through the Hotspot

Sumatra is scheduled to be part of Java 8, as it
repurposes the Stream and Lambda API, the core feature tagged onto
the next major release, for CPU/GPU processing. Although Sumatra
will be beating the HSA Foundation’s effort to the punch, it won’t
be native to the JVM, something the collective is pinning its hopes
on. There are other options available to Java developers such
which converts Java bytecode to the more familiar OpenCL for data
parallelism on GPU devices.

As Java is prevalent in cloud and big data environments,
making the language and hardware more performant for modern tasks
is clearly at the top of the agenda of many vendors. The HSA
Foundation’s quest to usher in a new heterogeneous era for
programming is arguably the most bold to date. With a first
specification already under its belt and the roadmap currently in
progress, the enormous scope of this project is one to make any
developer tentatively salivate.

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