Feeds

RISC daddy conjures Moore's Lawless parallel universe

The 64-core laptop

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

The oft-cited Moore's Law is the fulcrum of the IT industry in that it has provided the means of giving us ever-faster and more sophisticated computing technology over the decades. This in turn allowed the IT industry to convince us that every one, two, or three years, we need new operating systems, better performance, and new and more complex applications. But ask yourself this: What happens to the IT industry if the performance improvements stop?

That is the question that one of the luminaries of the computer industry, David Patterson, posed last week with his keynote address at the SC08 supercomputing event in Austin, Texas. Patterson is one of the most important thinkers in computer science, and when he says there's a problem, people listen.

If you don't know who Patterson is, you know some of his work. At the University of California at Berkeley, where Patterson has been a member of the computer science faculty since 1977, he lead the design and implementation of the RISC I, what some have called the very first VLSI RISC computers and the foundation of what would eventually become Sun Microsystems' Sparc processor. Patterson was also the leader on another storage product called the Redundant Arrays of Inexpensive Disks (RAID) project, which made cheap PC-style disks look like more reliable mainframe-class disks in terms of reliability and capacity. RAID disks of various stripes are the norm in storage today.

These days, Patterson is still at Berkeley, and he runs the Parallel Computing Laboratory that is funded largely by Intel and Microsoft - Par Lab for short. As the name suggests, the lab is trying to tackle the parallel computing problem in new ways. Both corporate and consumer computing today is wrestling with this parallelism problem, right there in the data center and on the desktop, a problem that has plagued supercomputing for decades. Specifically, we have been trying to make many relatively slow computers do the work that would be done by a single, large, and imaginary computer. Yes, imaginary. The laws of physics (and particularly thermodynamics) don't allow you to build it.

In the old days of computing - which was only a few years ago - everyone expected that the ever-shrinking transistor would just enable faster and faster processors, thereby allowing single-threaded applications to run faster and faster. "This is an example of faith-based science," Patterson quipped in his opening, and he reminded everyone that he was among the people just a few years ago who just assumed that the chip-making processes would be available so chips could crank up the clocks and still be in a 100 watt thermal envelope. He showed what the chip roadmap looked like from the early 2000s looking ahead into 2005 and then how this was revamped:

Chip Roadmaps

As you can see, only as far back as 2005, the expectation was for a chip well above 20 GHz by 2013. And a few years later, the expectation shifted to possibly having chips at 5 GHz by 2007 and reaching up towards 8 GHz or so. Take a look at the actual Intel multicore line on the chart. We are stuck at around 3 GHz with x64 processors, and all that Moore's Law is getting us is more cores on a die with each passing year.

Single thread performance is stalled, with some exceptions here and there. We have hit a wall on thermals and it just wasn't practical to ramp up clock speeds any more. And so, we started cookie-cutting cores onto dies. First two, then four or more. And this is how we have been using Moore's Law to boost the performance inside a single CPU socket. But we are quite possibly engaging in more faith-based science, according to Patterson.

"The whole industry is assuming that we will solve this problem that a lot of people have broken their picks on." To make his point, Patterson told the nerds at SC08 to imagine a 32-core laptop and then an upgrade to a 64-core laptop, and then asked if they thought it would do more work on the kinds of workloads that run on a laptop. "We'd all bet against that. But that is the bet this industry has made."

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

Next page: Why Make the Bet?

More from The Register

next story
The Return of BSOD: Does ANYONE trust Microsoft patches?
Sysadmins, you're either fighting fires or seen as incompetents now
Oracle reveals 32-core, 10 BEEELLION-transistor SPARC M7
New chip scales to 1024 cores, 8192 threads 64 TB RAM, at speeds over 3.6GHz
Docker kicks KVM's butt in IBM tests
Big Blue finds containers are speedy, but may not have much room to improve
US regulators OK sale of IBM's x86 server biz to Lenovo
Now all that remains is for gov't offices to ban the boxes
Gartner's Special Report: Should you believe the hype?
Enough hot air to carry a balloon to the Moon
Flash could be CHEAPER than SAS DISK? Come off it, NetApp
Stats analysis reckons we'll hit that point in just three years
Dell The Man shrieks: 'We've got a Bitcoin order, we've got a Bitcoin order'
$50k of PowerEdge servers? That'll be 85 coins in digi-dosh
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Solving today's distributed Big Data backup challenges
Enable IT efficiency and allow a firm to access and reuse corporate information for competitive advantage, ultimately changing business outcomes.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.