Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Even Intel struggles with this stuff…

For the past few years Intel has been steadily working on bringing an exceptional step forward in processing capability to market. They internally called it Larrabee and it is a chip that is widely rumored to have as many as 32 or more cores on the chip. This would bring multi-core parallel computing to the consumer market in an unprecedented way.

Recently, however, news came out that at least the first iteration of this chip was being officially canned. Although it’s not unheard of for a big company like Intel to sack a project, in this case the number of man years, resources and buzz built up around Larrabee represented a substantial investment on Intel’s part.

This news for me really drove home the challenges that the computing and software industry is facing as we continue to attempt to scale out as opposed to up. To build more processors on a chip instead of faster ones. To fundamentally change the way we design and implement hardware and the applications that run on them.

This stuff is hard! Really hard, in fact. And although the concept of putting a bunch of processors together on a chip is simple, actually harnessing that power to do real work is anything but. There are many reasons for this, but one is that writing multi-threaded software that actually can tap into this power is exceptionally more challenging that just waiting for Intel or AMD to produce another CPU that is 50% faster than the last.

It’s hard to conject exactly what stopped Larrabee in its tracks as it was seemingly so close to launch. What we do know is there was a tremendous amount of horsepower built into the chip, but tapping that potential apparently proved elusive. A public demonstration of Larrabee at a recent trade event was met with a relative ‘Hmmm…where’s the beef’ kind of reaction from the press and analysts.

As the hardware scales out with multi-core and the applications get more complex, the tools and infrastructure needed to support them, including debugging tools and defect resolution solutions, need to grow and evolve as well.

I will be anxious to see what AMD and NVIDIA are working on in their respective labs as each race against each other and Intel to keep up with Mr. Moore. It’s an exciting time as the industry looks for innovation from our hardware and software vendors to keep up the pace of advancement that we’ve grown to expect…

Onward and outward!

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