Wednesday Dec 16, 2009

48 Core Microprocessors... What's next? - Quantum Computing?

Intel has produced a gem with the Nehalem microprocessor.  While the architecture limits the chip to 8 processing cores today, Intel is doing research and advanced development with much bigger ideas.  The samples of 48 core processors (see picture on left) that some people in the industry are envisioning capable of scaling to 100 plus cores one day is impressive.  In the old days when I was doing large SMP server development, single core clock rate was a major vector that drove computational performance.  Then, as predicted, a few years into the twenty first century the technology started to run into the laws of physics.  Increasing the clock rate was no longer an available option.  However scaling problems were now starting to be addressed by building multi core architectures.  In other words placing multiple processing engines on a single die addressable by software.  CPU to cache interconnects become smaller and parallel computing is beginning to approach a commodity.   Introduce software to program these multi-core CPUs and parallel computing can realize significant gains.

An impressive fact of the Intel 48 core research chip is the power consumption of 125 Watts.  That averages to about 2.6 Watts per core.  This 48 core chip also has the ability to dynamically control voltage and frequency via software.  So the power consumption can be much lower than 125 Watts.  Keep in mind in the early 2000 time frame, 32 microprocessors in a SMP server would alone consume ~2 Kilowatts!  In my opinion the rising costs of energy and cooling will become a barrier similar to that of the laws of physics.  If your interested you can find more info on extreme core architecture here.

What are the industry folks in academics and research thinking 10, 20, 30 or more years out?  The semiconductor world is quickly approaching process geometry limits.  For example 45 nanometer technology is so small that you are manipulating layer thickness measured by atoms in the single digits.  Margin of error keeps getting smaller and smaller.  Is reliability a factor too?  Absolutely.  So where could technology lead us once we are manipulating single atoms to produce silicon?  In research labs today the industry has already been able to manipulate single atoms.

One option would be to discover another variable beyond clock rate or multi core.  Another option may have some promising hopes.  Have you heard of Quantum Computing?  All of us in Computer Science can relate to binary, octal, hexadecimal and decimal.  Are you ready to learn about the difference between bits and qubits?  Click here.

Blog is also available at: http://bobporras.wordpress.com/

Wednesday Dec 02, 2009

Isn't Chrome OS another Linux distribution?

Google released the Chrome OS open sourced code base on November 19, 2009.  The first netbooks running the Chrome OS are not expected for at least another year.  There are some nice features of this streamlined Linux variant such as fast boot using solid state disk technology built into the netbook. However just about any OS has the ability to support SSDs.  In fact more than a few operating systems, file systems and databases are SSD aware.

With several other Linux offerings such as RedHat, OpenSuse, OEL, Centos, etc. why yet another?  (Have you heard of Moblin?)  Chrome OS appers to me as more of a thin client rather than desktop device.  All applications on a Chrome OS device execute via the Web somewhere.  The users interface to the given application is through the Chrome web browser.  All the data and the application code is NOT on the netbook running The Chrome OS.

The major software desktop platforms want to optimize seamless operation of the desktop and the World Wide Web. Microsoft has Windows 7 and Linux desktops are no longer only for the hobbyist.  Also look how far Apple has come with the UNIX based operating system developed at NeXT, now called Mac OS X.

Now this desktop/netbook/Web client situation sounds familiar to the various smart devices already all over the world.  A particular embedded OS in smart phones really does make a difference.  The Blackberry OS can multitask and therefore you can run multiple applications at once.  The iPhone OS cannot run more than one application at a time but the iPhone experience and application portfolio has set the standard.  Google has the Android OS for intelligent handsets now coming to market.  Will there be a Windows 7 CE?

My opinion is that two camps emerge.  The set of companies whose business model is totally focused to monetize the Web.  Everyone else is focused on maintaining their business model AND creating ways to monetize the Web.  Consumers want simplicity and low prices.  Unfortunately simplicity and low price are inverse proportions for the enterprise. 

Crossing this chasm is what makes the IT industry very exciting today and for the next several years!

Blog is available also at: http://bobporras.wordpress.com/

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The blog of Bob Porras - Vice President, Data, Availability, Scalability & HPC for Sun Microsystems, Inc.

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