Of Speed and the Multicore

The demand for computing speed is relentless, and both the hardware and software industries have been looking to parallel computing to accelerate application performance.  Parallel computing, which is based on the observation that two computers harnessed to components of the same task can accomplish that task faster than a single larger computer with equivalent power.  Many hands make light work.
  
The "multicore"  was just the latest development in a succession of innovations in parallel computing.  It is a chip that houses more than one CPU and functions like so many computers working on the same problem.  It was expected to be a generalized performance solution for "embarrassingly parallel" operations–those which can be easily separated into sub-tasks, like genetic algorithm optimization and operations management programs for risk assessment.  
 
Last year, Microsoft and Intel made joint grants to two universities totaling $20 million to further the use of their new multicore computer chips.  The two companies have asked researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and University of California, Berkeley, to develop software to exploit the potential of the new chips. Although at the time of the Microsoft-Intel grants, the companies spoke of glitzy consumer applications like personal health monitors and personal assistants on cell phones, one of the most important destinations for the multicores was large processing centers that manage data for marketing and financial concerns.  
 

These businesses have continued to grow vigorously, and their needs have outpaced the software they depend on.  At the same time, the problems of programming for multiple cores continue to plague development of these chips, and data center operators–apparently now along with Microsoft in its own parallel path to faster performance–are now looking to chips customized for particular tasks, such as the graphics processing units dedicated to running Monte Carlo software.

Time will reveal the fate of the multicore chip–but probably not quickly–and in the meantime, necessity may well turn out to be the mother of raw speed. 

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