Feeds

Hey, software snobs: Hardware love can set your code free

The two go hand in hand when scaling data-crunching systems

Using blade systems to cut costs and sharpen efficiencies

Comment In computing there are many, many different ways to run down other people’s work, not the least of which is: “OK, so they removed the bottleneck, but only by throwing faster hardware at it.”

The implication is that tackling an issue just with software is intrinsically better. When did you ever hear anyone say: “OK, so they removed the bottleneck, but only by better coding?"

The truth is that solving computing problems always involves both hardware and software; the trick is not to look for specific kinds of solution, but to find the most effective one. Of course "effective" in analytical terms can be defined in a host of different ways – cost, speed of implementation, reliability and so on.

And to make matters more complex the most effective solution to a given problem will vary with time. For example when Relational Online Analytical Processing (ROLAP) was all the rage, many star schemas were usually woefully poorly indexed. So the software fix of applying sensible indices was very effective – and much better than merely throwing hardware at the problem. These days, a more effective solution might be to chuck in a solid-state drive (SSD).

There can be no doubt that SSD technology will speed up the I/O of a system, many times over in some cases, and can be spectacularly better than spinning disk in terms of random reads and writes. And as SSDs continue to plummet in price and get faster, we expect to see them used more and more to replace delicate software hand-tuning such as indices, calculated redundant columns, horizontally and/or vertically splitting of tables and so on.

And, to switch to another valid measure of efficiency, we would argue that SSDs generally require less maintenance than software and fewer design tweaks like these and are therefore better.

This is not to suggest you should abandon software/design changes and use SSDs in all analytical systems, but it does illustrate the point that “throwing hardware” at a problem can be the correct solution.

Quick wins for accelerating the performance of software can be found by increasing the speed and capacity of the system memory. True, it’s volatile, so if the plug is pulled you lose all that lovely data, but analytical systems work almost exclusively on copies of the data. Memory capacity continues to rise as prices continue to drop and systems with many gigabytes of main memory are now common.

On the other hand, the volume of data continues to grow exponentially and we know that a great deal of data is accessed only rarely, so memory, while very useful, is never going to be the only answer.

For years we have got away with relying on CPUs acquiring ever-increasing numbers of transistors (just ask Gordon Moore) and becoming faster and faster. Recently however we have hit a hard limit in the speed of CPU cores and are resorting to using more of them to allow parallel processing. Resourceful types are finding good use cases for GPUs, chips architected originally for graphics processing, as these are designed to perform mathematical operations at high speed across many cores.

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

More from The Register

next story
BBC goes offline in MASSIVE COCKUP: Stephen Fry partly muzzled
Auntie tight-lipped as major outage rolls on
iPad? More like iFAD: We reveal why Apple fell into IBM's arms
But never fear fanbois, you're still lapping up iPhones, Macs
White? Male? You work in tech? Let us guess ... Twitter? We KNEW it!
Grim diversity numbers dumped alongside Facebook earnings
HP, Microsoft prove it again: Big Business doesn't create jobs
SMEs get lip service - what they need is dinner at the Club
Bose says today is F*** With Dre Day: Beats sued in patent battle
Music gear giant seeks some of that sweet, sweet Apple pie
Amazon Reveals One Weird Trick: A Loss On Almost $20bn In Sales
Investors really hate it: Share price plunge as growth SLOWS in key AWS division
Dude, you're getting a Dell – with BITCOIN: IT giant slurps cryptocash
1. Buy PC with Bitcoin. 2. Mine more coins. 3. Goto step 1
There's NOTHING on TV in Europe – American video DOMINATES
Even France's mega subsidies don't stop US content onslaught
You! Pirate! Stop pirating, or we shall admonish you politely. Repeatedly, if necessary
And we shall go about telling people you smell. No, not really
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
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.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.