Monday, October 20, 2008

Getting Back to Comments

It’s more than time to respond to some of the comments that have been posted. I’ve copied the shorter ones here, and summarized the longer ones. If your comment isn’t here, it’s because no response seemed needed, or I already responded with a comment of my own.

Steve, on IT Departments Should NOT Fear Multicore: I think you're spot on concerning why IT shouldn't fear multicore. Where they fear it, it's because they've had innovation beaten out of them.

I agree, Steve. Another possibility is that they are so very conservative they fear changing anything – which may be saying the same thing. It’s possible Claunch was trying to wake up the change-fearing crowd, but why he didn’t virtualize (or why Dignan didn’t repeat it) I just don’t understand, except in the most cynical possible way (“Oooh, it’s scary! Hire us to tell you what to do!”).

Several folks commented on Vive la (Killer App) Revolution!

Stu: isn't the killer app 'information retrieval' ? i.e. google search, or commoditized parallel data warehousing and mining?

Stu, sure those use multicore, but they’re server apps; see IT Departments Should NOT Fear Multicore for more about how server apps soak up multicore quite well. That article was looking for, and arguing that we need, client apps.

Steve: Embedded systems could soak up a lot of low power multiprocessor chips. At least a couple of start-ups are working on them. Intellasys has a very low power 40 core chip and XMOS has a 4 core chip with 8 hardware threads per core.

They surely can soak up some, Steve, but I don’t think enough. The high end, in things like MRI scanners, has really miniscule volumes. The low end, in things like dishwasher controllers, has enormous volume but only requires trivial capabilities; it doesn’t take much brains to run a dishwasher. The only high-volume fairly high-price case is PC clients, where new CPUs go for $100s – and possibly game systems. I don’t know the relative volumes of PCs and game systems. I suspect the game systems are pretty big, but not in the PC range, since they’re not on every desk in every business.

Philip Machanick: What is really needed is a killer app that addresses some real mass-market need. The history of computing tells us that technology packaged for low cost eventually overtakes technology packaged for speed, first on price:performance and eventually on performance. More at my blog.

Philip, I share much of your astonishment and unbelieving about multicore, but I think what you’re referring to with “low cost eventually overtakes” is the Disruptive Technology process of Clayton Christensen’s "The Innovator's Dilemma." I don’t think that’s what’s happening here, or can happen here. I think multicore is more like the process in which cars eventually just got fast enough for everybody, so to keep selling them manufacturers invented tail fins. I’m not sure that has a name other than “marketing.”

TerryMcIntyre: [My summary of his long comment: He thinks killer apps include crosses between games and tutors, managing your photo collection including face recognition and recognition-driven auto-tagging, optimizing use of applications, and smart implementations of Go (and the like).]

Those are all possibilities, Terry. One requirement I’d put on things, however, is that somebody know how to do it, meaning a practical algorithm is known. I think that rules out things like auto-tagging everything looking like the Grand Canyon from some examples. I’m not sure about Go.

Robert on Clarifying the Black Hole: Greg, With this sentence: "Unfortunately, servers alone don't produce the semiconductor volumes that keep an important fraction of this industry moving forward – a fraction, not all of the industry, but certainly the part that's arguably key, to say nothing of the loudest, and will make the biggest ruckus as it increasingly runs into trouble." you tap dance around this "important fraction of the industry" without actually saying who they are. Who, precisely, are these people who can't easily parallelize, and really need continuing performance gains, and constitute a significant fraction of the computing market? Before we can find new solutions for them we need to know who they are and what they are trying to accomplish.

Ok, Robert, a spade a spade: I believe that the technological trend of multicore hurts the traditional business models of Intel and Microsoft, and their derivative PC hardware and software vendors: HP, Dell, and company. That’s not to say they’ll have financial problems; finances are affected by a lot more than technology.

John on 101 Parallel Languages (Part 3, the last): [My summary of his long comment: My conclusion shouldn’t be so negative; we need to find new modes of expression expressing parallelism.]

John, all I can say is that’s not the evidence I see. Some language extensions can help; but I’m thinking here of relatively low-level support like, say, truly low-weight thread spawning in Java. But I think the attempts to provide parallelism in ordinary, programming-for-the-rest-of-us things are fundamentally misguided.

dvadell on Background: Me and This Blog: 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.

Well, thanks, dvadell. I’m glad you found it enjoyable. I hope I manage to get another out there for you in the foreseeable future.

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