Thursday, September 18, 2008

Background: Me and This Blog

Some people still remember me as the author of In Search of Clusters, as I found out when I began posting to the Google group cloud-computing. A hearty Thank You! to all of them. For the rest of you, why not buy a copy? It's still in print, and I still get royalties. :-) (Really only a semi-smiley. Royalties are good.)

For the rest of you, and as a reminder, here’s a short bio:

I was until recently a Distinguished Engineer in the IBM Systems & Technology Group in Austin, Texas. I’m the author of In Search of Clusters, currently in its second edition and still occasionally referred to as “the bible of clusters” even seven years after its publication. I was also, back in the '80s, Chief Scientist of the RP3 massively-parallel computing project in IBM Research (joint with NYU). My job in Austin was to be a leader of future system architecture work, particularly in the areas of accelerators and appliances, and I was chair of the InfiniBand industry standard management workgroup. I've worked on parallel computing for over 30 years, and hold something around 30 patents in parallel computing and computer communications.

I’m currently retired, living in Austin, TX, and intending to move to Colorado (just North of Denver), where I've been invited to be part-time on the faculty of CSU - as soon as I can sell my house. That was supposed to be over and done three or four months ago, but things have ground to a trickle now that buyers find it virtually impossible to get a mortgage. Austin was pretty immune to housing slowdowns until that happened. Dang. Anyway.

In the meantime, I’m working on another book. Its working title is The End of Computing (As We Knew It), and my intention with it is to expose the hole into which the computer industry may be plunging by turning to explicit parallelism. I'm not implying there's any other realistic choice, mind you, but I got a snoot-full while in IBM of how (a) hardware engineers haven’t a clue what a bitch that is to program; (b) most software engineers haven’t a clue that this is being done to them; (c) many upper-management and analyst types have their heads firmly stuck in the sand on what this all will mean.

It particularly bugs me that people still blather on about how Moore's Law will keep on trucking for decades. Maybe it will, interpreted literally. But the Moore's Law that will keep on trucking has been castrated. It lacks a key element (frequency scaling) that drove the computing industry for the last four or more decades. This is a classic case of experts focussing on the veins in the leaves on the trees and ignoring the ravine they're about to fall into. 

More. I have this suspicion that many people who really understand how deep into the doodoo we're going are weasel-wording it deliberately. No point in frightening the hoi polloi, now, is there? Maybe there's a cure, who knows, we're not there yet, hm? Horsepuckey. 

Or else they're just scared to death and hoping like crazy they'll wake up one morning and somebody will have solved the problem. Unfortunately, that ignores 30 years of history, my friends.

That's the topic. Obviously, I feel strongly about it. This is good. It's motivational. 


I am sorry, and somewhat ashamed, to have to say that I’ve made nearly no progress on actually writing the book over the last year. I've messed around starting a couple of chapters, and have an outline, but that's all. 

I have been spending a lot of time just keeping up with what’s being said all around this subject, and have amassed a huge number of web references and comments – 600+ MB of them, in fact. Stitching it all together is, however, requiring more focused continuous effort than retirement with a decent pension and waiting for a house to sell seems induce. (Why do it today? There’s always tomorrow.)

It finally occurred to me, through a devious chain of events, that it might help make some of my data collection and musings public.

Hence this blog.

You can expect to find here comments on things like:

  • Semiconductor technology – in a simple way. I’m no expert in this area, but it’s the basis of the whole issue.
  • What it takes to make parallel computer hardware, like SMPs and clusters (farms, etc.), interconnects and communications issues in particular.
  • Issues and difficulties involved in programming that hardware, and what has been learned in about 40 years of experience in the HPC arena (a point seemingly lost in most discussions).
  • Ways to make use of that hardware that don’t require explicit parallel programming by the mass of programmers, like virtualization, transaction processing.
  • Yet Another Way to use all those transistors: Accelerators. And why they may now finally have legs and stay around for a while (hint: you can’t win against a 45% CAGR increase in clock speed).
  • Graphics accelerators and, in particular, Larrabee vs. Nvidia / ATI(AMD). Why it’s needed. Who’s betting on which characteristic, whether they know it or not. (Lessons from HPC.)
  • Possible killer apps for parallel systems, like virtual worlds, graphics, stream processing, cloud computing (sort of), grids (sort of).
  • What this all means to the industry.

Readers of In Search of Clusters will notice a lot of familiar material there, and a lot that's new. One big differnce is that I'm going to try to aim for a more popular audience on this one, trying to make it more accessible to more people. There are two reasons for this: First, I think the topic needs to be brought more out into the open, outside the confines of the industry. Second, that sells lots more copies of any book.

In this blog I’ll probably also grouch and rave about some things that have nothing to do with any of the above, just to keep from getting my head clear now and again. Like a short lesson in not to try to carry a three-foot Tai Chi (Taijichuan) Jian, a three-foot straight sword, when flying from Beijing to Shanghai. Or my struggles with using Word to produce a book manuscript, which I apparently have to these days.

I'm also newly twitter-ified (twitified?) as GregPfister, and will try to keep that channel stuffed, too. But this will be where the data is, of necessity.

Oh, and anybody know what the situation is on copyright for blog contents? Until I know otherwise, I’m going to have to be really conservative about posting excerpts of work in progress on the new book.

Anyway, Hi!

I'm here.

(tap, tap) This thing on?

Anybody listening?


stu said...

Great to see you starting this; I look forward to the discussion...

Anonymous said...

I'm very happy I found your blog. I can finally say: Thank you for "In search of clusters"! I couldn't get it here in Argentina so a friend of mine sent it to me from USA. I enjoyed (and laughed) a lot.

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