SAN JOSE, Calif. The electronics industry is not investing nearly enough time, energy and money to address what has become a pressing need for a genuine technology breakthrough in parallel computing. It is time to fund multiple large-scale projects in this area and multiple stakeholders need to step up to the plate quickly.
David A. Patterson, veteran computer science professor and researcher at the University of California at Berkeley, outlined the gravity of the problem in a recent talk.
Microprocessor makers have hit a "power wall" that undermines their conventional design techniques and has driven them to multi-core architectures. But this just shifts the problem to the need for parallel software, something researchers have pursued with little success for the past 40 years.
If researchers do not solve this problem now, multi-core architectures will soon outstrip the ability of software to keep up. If new software cannot take advantage of improved chips, the growth of the computer industry—and the many industries that depend on it—is in peril.
The response to this challenge from the industry's large, aggressive competitors has so far been wimpy.
Intel and Microsoft put together a reportedly $10 million, five-year university research grant to tackle the issue. Details of the program will be announced March 19.
The Wintel duo did a good job raising the level of consciousness about the problem by seeking competitive bids from 25 top computer research institutions for the grant. Still, their effort is tiny in comparison to the magnitude of the problem and their resources.
Intel and Microsoft are two of the most profitable companies in the sector, having worked for years to drive most of the value of computers into their processors and Windows. Now it's time they dig deep.
I know Intel has already funded some efforts to help train the next generation of programmers in the latest parallel techniques. And Microsoft has hired a handful of heavy hitters in parallel programming including Burton Smith and Dan Reed.
But William Dally, professor of computer science at Stanford University, was right when he said the industry needs "to start experimenting right away and try a dozen different ideas to find a few that work."
Wintel should not just tease multiple researchers with a $10 million grant awarded to one institution. They need to significantly up the ante and fund multiple efforts.
Ten million is a drop in the bucket of the R&D budgets at Intel and Microsoft. You have to wonder about who is piloting the ship in Redmond these days when the company can afford a $44 billion bid for Yahoo to try to bolster its position in Web search but only spends $10 million to attack a needed breakthrough to save its core Windows business.