Lurking below the IT headline generating buzz of Apps and social media and smart phones is a core change racing in parallel with its sometimes perceived more glamorous cousins.
The very way computers and computing itself, works, has changed. The change is, literally, multicore.
Until quite recently, most computer devices have been a single core. Over the past 50 years there’s been huge improvements in these processor’s performance and scalability. Software for such single processors has been written sequentially – that is, one step after another. But packing ever more into smaller and smaller bundles results in ever more heat generation – and with it the need to keep computers cool.
There’s also only so much calculating that’s able to be carried out when you’re essentially trying to funnel the results through one core.
However, “serial computing is dead, and the parallel computing revolution has begun based on a multicore architecture,” says Nicolas Erdody. “This offers virtually unlimited processing power without the heat and size constraints of its single core ancestor,” says the Oamaru-based technology and business adviser (Erdody Consulting).
Multicores (more than one processor) became mainstream in early 2006, and brought with it a fundamental shift by the software development community. Erdody says early adopters of what he calls ‘Parallelism’ discovered heavy costs associated with attempting to retrofit existing single core languages and approaches to multicores. Parallelism allows problems to be divided into parts that are solved simultaneously (see a wikipedia explanation here)
“The move to parallel computing is too important to get wrong,” he says. “It needs to be done right the first time, or you will be doomed to do it over and over again.”
At the same time, doing nothing is not an option. Erdody says ageing legacy systems will need to be adapted to the new parallelism paradigm.
“The leap in power is enabling the development of revolutionary software in all areas and industries,” he says. “Applications that were unthinkable only a few years ago are becoming a reality, and it is a topic that affects every computer programmer on the planet.”
For those able and willing to embrace the changes that are required, combined with developments in big data, the cloud and the Internet, the potential rewards are massive he says.
It is part of the reason that Erdody is one of the organisers behind Multicore World 2012, one of the first forums in the world bringing together multiple stakeholders to address parallel programming, its implications and applications. It is being held in Wellington’s Town Hall on March 27 & 28, with more information and registration available here.
“Anybody who is a programmer or interested in the wider fields of where computing is heading, should attend,” he says. “Multicore World is a conference for IT decision takers, being software leaders as well as senior managers looking to dramatically improve their organisations’ performances. It should particularly be of interest for innovators in all areas, being economy, science or medicine”
Among the speakers and invitees are Intel’s director of software, and its senior research scientist for OpenCL. The CSIRO’s senior software scientist who is the project leader for the Square Kilometer Array is another speaker, as are Weta Digital CTO and GreenButton’s CEO.
USA and New Zealand investors, and senior executives and technical leaders from both countries will be in attendance in what Erdody describes as a unique opportunity to discuss the convergence of business and technology.
“We, New Zealand, has an opportunity to build a centre of excellence in multicore software and parallel computing from this country,” he says. “The infrastructure is in place to allow us to do it – what it requires is a vision to develop along these lines.”
McW 2012 will trigger a discussion about the present and future of the IT industry he says. Changes will occur whether or not people are aware of it, and “given that every company is becoming a software company, you need to know what is happening right now and how it will affect you and your company,” Erdody says.
A comparison could be a change in a car’s performance from having a single engine, to power plant situated at every wheel. Under such a scenario, the car’s exterior, its look, may remain the same.
It’s performance, and what it is capable of, totally change however.
Likewise, the engines of how our increasingly ubiquitous computing devices operate is the non-glamourous side of things.
But, understanding the mechanics drives the development of what is possible, where things can go.
Out of sight, but not necessarily out of mind, McW 2012 promises to be one of those seminal events, where New Zealand has the potential to be at the front rather than at the rear of the pack.