Most mid- to high-range PCs and midrange servers currently exploit dual-core processors, while quad core should make it into the mainstream in servers within the next 1-2 years, desktops in 2-3 years and notebooks in 3-4 years.
What should enterprises do about multicore systems? First, companies should be planning now for multicore PC deployments for the next generation of products they purchase (in fact, most current enterprise-class notebooks and desktops already come with dual cores, and quad cores will be the norm in 2008/09).
The biggest challenge is for software (both OS and applications) to take maximum advantage of the multiple cores. Indeed, although multiple cores can work to some advantage without optimization of code by processing multiple apps in parallel or operating on background tasks, providing multicore-enabled applications can increase the system performance by several times.
However, it is much harder for application providers to rearchitect their software to utilize the increasing numbers of cores than it is for the chip vendors to create the multicore chips and architectures. Therefore, companies should be working with their primary application suppliers to evaluate just when their multicore-optimized applications will be available, and what it will take for the company to upgrade to those applications (e.g., maintenance upgrade, new licenses, full application migration).
In some cases, the preferred application vendors may not have an optimized product for three to four years. Companies should evaluate if this will put the product at risk of being outmoded and inefficient, although in many cases, companies may be "stuck," as it might be too difficult to transition to a new vendor's application.
Determine Processing Power Priorities
Indeed, much like Moore's Law predicting a doubling of CPU power every 24 months, we believe that the law of "multiple cores" will provide for a doubling of cores within mainstream processors, driven by increasingly complex OSes and applications, every three to four years. Those who say that this amount of processing power isn't necessary for most of the applications users run are mistaken, as it is almost a universal truth that applications, and users themselves, always find a way to utilize additional processing power, memory and storage space.
Click here for 10 things you should know about quad-core processors.
Further, with decreasing chip sizes due to the move to smaller physical geometries (90 nm to 65 nm to 45 nm and eventually 32 nm), we expect the price of these advanced devices to be cost equivalent with previous-generation devices very quickly (within six to 12 months after introduction). Indeed, several quad-core PCs (e.g., HP workstations and gaming machines) have been introduced with a reasonable premium over dual-core systems that make them attractive and affordable for performance-driven applications. Such performance will "flow downhill" in many organizations in short order.
Get Systems Ready
Companies must be prepared to upgrade to multicore machines as they move through a normal purchasing cycle and should expect a doubling of cores approximately every three years. We are convinced that more complex applications and data types will drive the need to increase cores in even casual user machines over the next few years.
Most enterprises are not currently planning for such a combined hardware/software transition. This should be a priority for any company moving into a hardware migration cycle. Enterprises must form a close relationship with its supplier at least six to 12 months before any transition takes place to minimize cost and migration problems.
Jack Gold is president and founder of J. Gold Associates. He has over 35 years in the computer and electronics industries, and he is a leading authority on mobile, wireless, computing infrastructure and enterprise application strategies. He is a highly regarded expert on computer hardware, software and architecture. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.