The MCU is dead, says IBM technologist
NEW YORK — According to a top IBM technologist, the future of cloud computing depends on 3D chip stacks and new kinds of accelerators for functions like security, as the industry faces processor shrinkage slowing down while processor integration increases.
Bernie Meyerson, IBM fellow and vice president of innovation, said in an interview with EE Times that traditional CMOS scaling for ever-faster microprocessor designs are a thing of the past:
The clock frequencies are pretty much stopped. The era of the microprocessor itself is now over. That’s not a bad thing if it means that there are a lot of other things you can do, such as tremendous 3D integration. You have to figure out how to get your data across to the processor.
Meyerson reiterated the importance of 3D packaging:
The other thing is, you’ll see a lot of work on accelerated processors. FPGAs and GPUs can be used to offload tasks that work inefficiently on a microprocessor. There’s a whole host of things, but they have to do with integration. There’s a paradigm shift to a whole lot of things that were never especially important in the past.
To him, 3D stacking is clearly the Next Big Thing. Instead of the continuation of Moore’s law, engineers will increasingly look to a different sort of packaging. Meyerson believes that density can be achieved by combining multiple functions. "It’ll look like a single chip, but it will be about 50 chips stacked one on top of the other.”
Meyerson believes in the importance of solid-state devices in storage in servers. “Ultimately, we’ll hopefully start to see things like storage class memory. We’ll actually be able to integrate this, but it will be at the same clutch time as external storage.”
Security at all levels
The other major shift Meyerson underscored was towards more integrated security on servers:
Cloud security and other elements will be dramatically upgraded. Systems don’t have it on the inside. There will be elements of the server that, in and of themselves, add dramatically to the security of that system. Hackers are going to get smarter, and the systems will also have to get smarter at what you might call self-defense.
IBM's Bernie Meyerson.
Meyerson pointed to the need for security at all levels, including the high end, which IBM’s servers are known for offering.
If you shut down for even a few moments your losses can be catastrophic. The inherent security of our capabilities is important. You have to offer more than just what I call "Here’s a server, good luck to you." The impact of outage and the impact of breach becomes extraordinarily problematic. We run many of the world’s banking systems. People are putting important stuff in the cloud.
Meyerson agrees with those who believe that we have reached the post-silicon era -- it's just that there is nothing to replace silicon.
"My joke is 'What’s going to come after silicon? Silicon.' " As CMOS technology is slowing down, he said he sees nothing in the next 15 to 20 years that will replace it. “It keeps running up against walls. As you keep making each element smaller, you keep running into barriers. The bottom line is you can yield devices that have millions of elements.”
Coherently Attached Processor Interface
Meanwhile, coprocessors and accelerators linked to microprocessors on coherent APIs are a major part of the future of server processors. “There is a need for accelerated systems and certain types of microprocessors like FPGAs that contain huge amounts of processing power. It would be great to run this through on an accelerated pace.”
In this context, Meyerson mentioned CAPI, the Coherently Attached Processor Interface, which provides a high-speed bus on top of PCI-E, replacing the older GX bus. CAPI can be used to attach dedicated off-chip accelerator chips such as GPUs, ASICs, and FPGAs in order to allow external components to communicate with the chip.
CAPI provides an easy on-ramp for their technology for many companies. There has been very good uptake. Nobody has a particularly extraordinary capability in the field. There are a lot of good people out there. We’ve actually attracted a fair number of folks who understand that we have a pretty good investment and a pretty good idea where the world is going. All I can say openly is there has been a very good response.
— Zewde Yeraswork, Associate Editor, EE Times