February 2007
The Promise and Perils of the Coming Multicore Revolution and Its Impact
Dave Turek, IBM


Over the past several years, public sector institutions (universities and government) and commercial enterprises have deployed supercomputing systems at an unparalleled rate, courtesy of favorable acquisition economics and compelling technological and business process innovation.

Manufacturers and producers of supercomputers have leveraged the price performance improvements of commodity microprocessors, the innovation in interconnect technologies, and the rise of Linux and open source software to reach classes of consumers unheard of as recently as five years ago.

In June of 1997, the so-called "fastest computer in the world," the ASCI Red machine at Sandia National Laboratory, was the first system exceeding a teraflop in compute power.1 Today, the same amount of compute power could be acquired for around $200,000, making supercomputing affordable to small companies, single academic departments and, in some cases, even individual researchers.

While these dramatic improvements in systems affordability have been taking place, the ability to extract value from the system is principally the consequence of well written and effective software. Here, the story for the industry is not quite as sanguine. From our customers, we hear that these systems are still difficult to use (for complete exploitation), and the applications they need either need to be ported, or even rewritten, to properly take advantage of all the hardware innovation in modern supercomputers.

This view is universal and strikes at the heart of the economic or scientific competitiveness of the institution: "Today's computational science ecosystem is unbalanced, with a software base that is inadequate to keep pace with and support evolving hardware and application needs … The result is greatly diminished productivity for both researchers and computing systems."2

As we contemplate each new hardware innovation for supercomputing, we must understand at the most fundamental level that software is the key to unlocking the value of the system for the benefit of the enterprise or the researcher.

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Reference this article
Turek, D. "High Performance Computing and the Implications of Multi-core Architectures," CTWatch Quarterly, Volume 3, Number 1, February 2007. http://www.ctwatch.org/quarterly/articles/2007/02/high-performance-computing-and-the-implications-of-multi-core-architectures/

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