Feeds

David May, parallel processing pioneer

We salute the architect of the Transputer

SANS - Survey on application security programs

Unsung Heroes of Tech "It's very distressing - I'm watching almost with disbelief. The Americans cannot get it out of their heads that if you're trying to build machines with lots of processors, you don't assume that they all share a common memory. The world doesn't have a common database. We pass messages to one another."

David May, professor of computer science at the University of Bristol, is talking about the current trend in chip design that proliferates cores - Intel's 'Knights Corner' currently runs to 50 processors on a single chip - but has them all dipping into the same memory pool.

David May

David May today

"The memory is a bottleneck even in a well-designed single-processor system," he says. May should know. He was the chief architect of the UK's famous foray into parallel computing way back in the 1980s - the Inmos Transputer.

Inmos was a government-funded IT company founded in 1978. Its mission was the implementation of a radically new microprocessor architecture: a complete computer-on-a-chip, comprising a fast, low-complexity CPU, substantial local memory and agile input-output circuitry to enable it to communicate efficiently with other transputers.

The key idea was to create a component that could be scaled from use as a single embedded chip in dedicated devices like a TV set-top box, all the way up to a vast supercomputer built from a huge array of interconnected Transputers.

Connect them up and you had, what was, for its era, a hugely powerful system, able to render Mandelbrot Set images and even do ray tracing in real time - a complex computing task only now coming into the reach of the latest GPUs, but solved by British boffins 30-odd years ago.

Cutting the cord

To understand where May is coming from, we need to wind back to the Warwick University robotics labs of the early 1970s. A machine with articulated arms and a Cyclops eye trundles across the floor towards a plastic cup on the lab bench. In the corner of the room, a lineprinter plugged into a DEC PDP-11 raps out the word "CUP". The robot reaches out towards the cup and tries to pick it up.

But May isn't looking at the robot or the cup. He's focused on the thick umbilical that connects the robot to the minicomputer. It's a big, big bundle of cables, a pair for each of the sensors in the robot feeding data back to the PDP-11, and a pair for each of the robot's actuators. All those wires are telling May the computer's in the wrong place - it should be inside the robot.

Inmos T800

On-die memory: the Transputer had it 30-odd years before it became fashionable

Instantly, it strikes him that that's wrong too. You don't want one big PDP-11 in the robot, you want lots of tiny PDP-11s, one for each of the sensors and actuators. And a way of networking them all together.

SANS - Survey on application security programs

More from The Register

next story
Samsung Galaxy S5 fingerprint scanner hacked in just 4 DAYS
Sammy's newbie cooked slower than iPhone, also costs more to build
Leaked pics show EMBIGGENED iPhone 6 screen
Fat-fingered fanbois rejoice over Chinternet snaps
Oh no, Joe: WinPhone users already griping over 8.1 mega-update
Hang on. Which bit of Developer Preview don't you understand?
Microsoft lobs pre-release Windows Phone 8.1 at devs who dare
App makers can load it before anyone else, but if they do they're stuck with it
True optical zoom coming to HTC smartphone cameras
Time to ditch that heavy DSLR? Maybe in a year, year and a half
Rounded corners? Pah! Amazon's '3D phone has eye-tracking tech'
Now THAT'S what we call a proper new feature
Leaked photos may indicate slimmer next-generation iPad
Will iPad Air evolve into iPad Helium?
Feast your PUNY eyes on highest resolution phone display EVER
Too much pixel dust for your strained eyeballs to handle
Zucker punched: Google gobbles Facebook-wooed Titan Aerospace
Up, up and away in my beautiful balloon flying broadband-bot
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.