Feeds

Intel and Microsoft dump $20m on researchers to avert software crisis

To your Ivory Towers!

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

JASON and the Have-Nots

Intel and Microsoft opened up their funding competition to the top 25 computer science departments in the US. The two winners were joined by Stanford University and MIT in the last round of the contest. But in the end, the public universities won the hearts of the vendors over those wealthy elitists. (Stanford was apparently quite upset by this loss, as it seemed that someone from the university - Bill Dally, we're looking at you - leaked word of Berkeley's victory to a news outlet. An odd PR strategy to be sure, but Dally is a JASON, so he must know what he's doing.)

To help model future hardware, Berkeley will turn to its own RAMP systems, which combine hundreds of FPGAs (field programmable gate arrays) on a single board. Researchers can tweak the RAMP systems to mimic various processor architectures and test how their code will run across tons of cores. Ideally, the RAMP designs save on hardware costs and time by freeing researchers from pricey systems and by allowing them to speculate about future hardware rather than waiting for prototypes from hardware makers.

The funding will let 8 full-time faculty and more than 30 students on their way to PhDs research the multi-threaded software problems at Berkeley.

"There is a real sense of urgency that we need to figure this stuff out," Patterson told us.

Many of the researchers have been looking into these types of problems for years, and lots of work is already underway. For example, the Berkeley staff are exploring personalized medicine applications where a doctor or even patient could use a handheld device to simulate how various treatments might affect the blood. They're also examining systems that would project a sound field into a room "that recreates a concert in your living room as if you were at the event," said Krste Asanović, another professor at Berkeley. And there's work underway on a parallel browser that could make it possible to display and use much richer applications on your cellphone.

All of the work done at Berkeley will be released under open source software licenses, meaning that Microsoft or rivals could, say, pick up the browser code.

While the needs for this type of research appear obvious, some prominent technology players remain fond of yesteryear's methods.

'Putting the cart in front of the horse'

Linux figurehead Linus Torvalds, for example, recently attacked Berkeley's parallelism efforts. Torvalds relegated the concerns around multi-threaded software to the niche of researchers.

"Designing future hardware around the needs of scientific computing seems ass-backwards," he wrote on a message board. "It's putting the cart in front of the horse."

Torvalds' comments shocked some of the Berkeley group.

"I was kind of staggered by that comment - that one of the leaders of computing sees the future in linear time computing," said Kurt Keutzer, a professor at Berkeley.

As the Berkeley set views things, the most interesting future applications will require far more horsepower than Torvalds seems to imagine.

Quite frankly, it must be a bit disheartening for Linux developers to witness Torvalds speak in such terms. He seems married to a past that's disappearing at pace with every release of a new processor.

Other critics might argue that we're heading toward a world where software returns to the data center rather than running on personal clients. The so-called Cloud Computing scenario would have servers do the serious work for users who just need relatively dumb, low-powered devices.

Patterson countered this argument by saying that a lack of pervasive network connections along with improvements in things such as flash memory will continue to make powerful client devices very attractive.

The Microsoft and Intel funding should help the researchers tackle these kinds of questions for five years. ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
Don't wait for that big iPad, order a NEXUS 9 instead, industry little bird says
Google said to debut next big slab, Android L ahead of Apple event
Netscape Navigator - the browser that started it all - turns 20
It was 20 years ago today, Marc Andreeesen taught the band to play
A drone of one's own: Reg buyers' guide for UAV fanciers
Hardware: Check. Software: Huh? Licence: Licence...?
Jaguar Sportbrake: The chicken tikka masala of van-sized posh cars
Indian-owned Jag's latest offering curries favour with us
The Apple launch AS IT HAPPENED: Totally SERIOUS coverage, not for haters
Fandroids, Windows Phone fringe-oids – you wouldn't understand
Apple SILENCES Bose, YANKS headphones from stores
The, er, Beats go on after noise-cancelling spat
Here's your chance to buy an ancient, working APPLE ONE
Warning: Likely to cost a lot even for a Mac
Xiaomi boss snaps back at Jony Ive's iPhone rival 'theft' swipe
I'll have a handset delivered. Judge us after you try us...
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.