News from RICE University

Rice doctoral alum turned Google executive wins technical Emmy

by Patrick Kurp
Special to Rice News

Parthasarathy Ranganathan, a computer scientist and Rice University graduate, has taken a mid-career detour into show business.

“You work on a project, doing your science and engineering, and all of a sudden you enter the popular culture,” said Ranganathan, a vice president and technical fellow at Google who has won an Emmy from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Parthasarathy Ranganathan

He is being honored for “Design and Deployment of Efficient Hardware Video Accelerators for Cloud,” and will accept his Emmy at the 75th annual Technology and Engineering Emmy Awards ceremony in October. He is co-founder of the Argos project and chief architect of the chip it developed.

“Our Argos work on deploying hardware video accelerators at warehouse scale is what we’re being recognized for by the Emmy,” he said. “What we developed were customized server chips for video streaming on our subsidiary, YouTube.”

The Argos video-transcoding chips, he said, provide from 20 to 33 times the computer efficiency compared to the previous server configuration. Argos has 10 cores for processing video. Instead of taking days to process 4K video, it takes only hours. The YouTube chip project started in 2015 and has been deployed in all Google data centers.

“When the pandemic hit in 2020, video usage went up something like 25% in watch time across the world in a 30-day period. The fact that we had an accelerator lying around that could stand up to all the demand was pretty useful. That was a memorable moment for us,” he said.

Ranganathan earned his Master of Science in computer engineering in 1997 and his Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering in 2000, both from Rice. He worked for 13 years for Hewlett Packard Laboratories and since 2013 has worked for Google.

Parthasarathy Ranganathan

His doctoral thesis at Rice was titled “General-Purpose Architectures for Media Processing and Database Workloads,” and the members of his thesis committee included Joseph Cavallaro, professor of electrical and computer engineering and computer science, and Keith Cooper, the L. John and Ann H. Doerr Chair in Computational Engineering and professor of computer science and electrical and computer engineering.

Ranganathan is a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the Association for Computing Machinery, and he served on the board of directors for OpenCompute. He is co-author of the textbook “Datacenter as a Computer” and jointly holds more than 100 patents.

Ranganathan has been named a top 15 “enterprise technology rock star” by Business Insider, one of the top 35 young innovators in the world by MIT Tech Review and is a recipient of the ACM SIGARCH Maurice Wilkes Award. In 2008 he received Rice’s Outstanding Young Engineering Alumni award.

“It’s a great thrill being recognized like this,” Ranganathan said. “The technical Emmys are given for industry contributions, so this is shared across Google, Meta, Netint and so forth. But Google was the first in the industry to deploy video accelerators at scale in the cloud.”