Micron Technology is rolling out a new computing architecture that company officials claim will perform high-speed, comprehensive search and analysis of complex, unstructured data streams, an important capability in such areas as big data and search engines.
Micron officials are demonstrating their new Automata Processor this week at the SC '13 supercomputing show in Denver, which runs through Nov. 22.
According to those officials, the Automata Processor looks to leverage parallelism that is intrinsic in memory, which will greatly improve computing capabilities in such areas as bioinformatics, video and image analytics, and network security. Such areas generate huge amounts of complex, unstructured data that can be a problem for conventional processor architectures, they said, including from the likes of Intel and Advanced Micro Devices.
A key difference between Automata processing and conventional processors is that Automata is a computing fabric comprising tens of thousands to millions of interconnected processing elements, officials said. This essentially creates a task-specific processing engine that can rapidly solve complex data-intensive problems.
"Micron has an intense focus on the development of innovative and advanced silicon solutions that help our customers solve their most challenging computing problems," said Brian Shirley, vice president of Micron's DRAM Solutions Group. "This announcement is a huge step forward for Micron and has the potential to unleash unprecedented levels of computing power."
According to company officials, Automata computing uses simple computational elements that activate or deactivate depending on specific input values. This is different from conventional CPUs, which are focused on arithmetic units, they said.
At least one industry analyst sees Micron's Automata Processor as a threat to Intel.
"Intel has been watching its PC business erode and has fortunately been able to rely on servers to bolster the company’s revenues," analyst Jim Handy wrote for Forbes.com. "The server market has been very strong lately because of the build-out of massive data centers, each with tens of thousands of Intel-based servers, to process all that the Internet has to offer. If the server market were to migrate from Intel processors to some other technology the results could be catastrophic for the leader in processors."
Intel already is being challenged in the server chip space. ARM officials see the growing demand for more energy-efficient systems as a good opportunity to move their low-power system-on-a-chip (SoC) architecture—now found in most tablets and smartphones—into the data center. ARM and its manufacturing partners, such as Samsung, Calxeda and Applied Micro, expect to push 64-bit chips based on ARM's upcoming ARMv8 architecture into the low-power server space starting next year. At the same time, AMD, which has competed with Intel for years in x86 chips, also will make ARM-based server SoCs, starting next year.
Intel has answered with low-power Atom chips as well as more energy-efficient Xeon processors. In addition, the vendor is offering a growing array of chips within the Xeon and Atom families optimized for particular workloads.
Micron officials said that graphic design and simulation tools for Automata processing, along with a software development kit for programmers, will be available next year.
In addition, Micron and the University of Virginia are opening a Center for Automata Computing at the school.
"The automata processor has already proven far more effective in early analytics application studies compared to existing hardware, including graphic processors, and is an incredibly promising computing technology," Kevin Skadron, chairman of the school's Department of Computer Science and founding director of the center, said in a statement.