SAN JOSE, Calif. Intel and Microsoft officially announced today their plan to spend a total of $10 million over five years to fund work at a new parallel computing lab at the University of California at Berkeley. The lab hopes to define a new parallel programming model that will be needed to make use of tomorrow's multicore processors.
Other companies and government research agencies need to follow suit to attack the issue which leaders at the new lab are calling the biggest problem in the history of computer science.
Researchers worked unsuccessfully for more than a decade to develop an easy-to-use model for programming high-end parallel system. Mainstream computers will need such a programming model soon to tap into performance gains from next-generation multicore CPUs.
"This architectural shift will change chips, systems and software so it has the potential to radically change the industry," said Kurt Keutzer, a professor of computer science at Berkeley working in the new lab. "This shift will change how we write software for everything," he said.
"I still don't see as much concern about this in the applications community including sectors like CAD and EDA," said Keutzer who was chief technology officer for Synopsys before joining Berkeley.
Among federal research agencies, the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency have let past efforts in parallelism for high-end systems go fallow, said Kathy Yelick, another professor of computer science at Berkeley working in the lab.
"It's impressive [Intel and Microsoft] have a concerted effort. Now it's a question of whether federally funded agencies are putting enough attention here," Yelick said.
If researchers can successfully define a mainstream parallel programming model, a daunting task in itself, an even bigger job is ahead—retraining today's software developers.
"We are talking about teaching a large number of people new programming techniques for all sorts of machines from notebooks to servers," said Yelick.
The work is already starting in a small way. For instance, Intel started a program recently to help educate University of Illinois students in parallel programming.
"We believe not only do we need to change graduate courses, but we need to tech undergrads right now about this shift even though we don't know what the new model is yet," said David Patterson, a veteran computer science professor and researcher at Berkeley who will head the new lab.
Freshman programming classes at Berkeley now include a segment on parallel techniques such as MapReduce, a novel algorithm developed by Google for taking a large number of data streams in parallel off disk and processing them "It's one particular model that works for a wide class of problems," said Yelick.