GPUs key to massively-accelerated queries of largest data sets

January 12, 2017 // By Graham Prophet
A former researcher at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Todd Mostak, is using graphical computing units – GPUs – to develop an analytic database and visualization platform called MapD, which lays claim to being the fastest of its kind in the world, a new type of database-analytics platform that queries and maps billions of data points in milliseconds.

GPUs were, and are, primarily designed for image processing. Developed for video games in the 1990s, modern GPUs are specialized circuits with thousands of small, efficient processing units, or “cores,” that work simultaneously to rapidly render graphics on screen. They are perhaps the most widespread application of parallel processing, with arrays of (usually) identical processing units applying the same transformations to many elements or blocks of elements, simultaneously.


Dating from the late 1990s, engineers and researchers noted that GPUs could also be viewed as highly-parallel general computing unit – the term GPGPU, general purpose computing with GPUs – appeared and led to a variety of derivatives, not least programming language variants such as OpenCL. Not entirely fanciful, proponents used descriptions such as “a supercomputer on a desktop”. Because of their parallel-computing speeds and high-performance memory, GPUs are today used for advanced lab simulations and deep-learning programming, among other things.


Mostak is now Founder and CEO of “data exploration” company MapD ( , whose main product has the same name. MapD is essentially a form of a commonly used database-management system that’s modified to run on GPUs instead of the central processing units (CPUs) that power most traditional database-management systems. By doing so, MapD can process billions of data points in milliseconds, making it 100 times faster than traditional systems. Moreover, MapD visualizes all processed data points nearly instantaneously — such as, say, plotting tweets on a world map — and parameters can be modified on the fly to adjust the visualized display.


With its first product launched last March, MapD’s clients already include Verizon and other big-name telecommunications companies, a social media giant, and financial and advertising firms. In October, the investment arm of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, In-Q-Tel, announced that it had invested in MapD’s latest funding round to accelerate the development of certain features for the U.S. intelligence community.


“[The CIA