Multicore NZ

February 4, 2009

Questions, questions…

Filed under: High Performance Computing, Multicore, Parallel Programming — multicoreblog @ 5:56 am

Today I met George Spix from Microsoft, here in Wellington. It was at a presentation from George Stathakopoulos, General Manager of Trustworthy Computing Security. His presentation was called “Internet Security -responding to the threat”.

Why did I assist?

Well, it was free, organised by the NZCS, in a hotel five minutes from my office…but above all, it is not frequent that a senior executive from one of the most influential organisations of the world is speaking around the corner.

You need to go to places where things are happening, even if they are not directly related to what are you doing. And maybe you hear something interesting (which it was, he is a good and dynamic speaker) plus maybe meet some friends or interesting people.

So after the Q&A (who knows me also knows that I obviously asked something), I went to thank the speaker, and ask my last question: it was about Cloud Computing. He immediately pointed to a gentleman sitting in a corner at the end of the room which was part of his entourage. It was Mr Spix, and I had no idea who he was.

We spent a good 3/4 hour talking about diverse things (multicore, supercomputing, parallel processing, the grant from Microsoft to Berkeley and Illinois, plus common acquaintances, Ian Foster, Andy Hopper…). A short search later showed me that this kind gentleman is “chief architect in the Consumer Platforms Division of Microsoft Corporation. He is responsible for Microsoft’s end-to-end solutions for consumer appliances and public networks”.

George mentioned more names of friends like Gordon Bell and Jim Gray…I started to read and read…and kept founding very interesting things…I want to share this presentation given by Gordon Bell in Nov. 1998: “A Seymour Cray Perspective: Supercomputing 1999”

It has 101 slides, but a good chunk of them are fantastic photos of old computers, so it is an easy to follow presentation. It tells the history of Cray and his work, but the more interesting part are the forecasts projecting petaflops computers by 2014 and more…

But I loved the final slide where Jim Gray speaks about Seymour Cray:

  • Seymour built simple machines- he knew that if each step was simple, it would be fast
  • When asked what kind of CAD tools he used for the CRAY1 he said that he liked #3 pencils with quadrille pads. He recommended using the back sides of the pages so that the lines were not so dominant
  • When he was told that Apple had just bought a Cray to help design the next Mac, Seymour commented that he had just bought a Mac to design the next Cray…

So a presentation from Microsoft and a few questions ended in a pleasant afternoon of learning new old things about Computer Science history and future…and about the generation that brought people to the Moon…exactly 40 years ago…

What should we be doing now to emulate these pioneers? How can we solve some of the problems of today? Where is “today’s Cray” writing algorithms that save energy/power? Who is teaching today computer science students to programme the computers of tomorrow? There is so much noise out there about multicore-manycore-parallel programming, but it is not a new issue, so what went wrong decades ago? It was just hardware missing? Or are we at the mercy of a very young industry -the computer industry- that is not even 100 years old and its finding its way? Do we (consumers/users) need to pay for its search?

Comparing with the banking/finance industry, which exists since hundreds of years in the modern way (and can be tracked thousands of years in history), it seems that the world still pay the price of industries that are pushing hard…

Finally, the most important point that every entrepreneur needs to ask himself: “am I asking the right questions?”

Nicolas Erdody,

Wellington, New Zealand

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