Parallel Processing Deemed Next Big Thing

At MIT's Emerging Tech Conference, Intel, Cisco and HP contend that parallel processing will be the big driver for the data center.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—Representatives from three of the biggest vendors in the industry agreed on a single focus for the next big step in technology for the data center.

Andrew Chien, vice president of research for Intel; Guido Jouret, chief technology officer of Ciscos Emerging Markets Technology Group; and Prith Banerjee, Hewlett-Packards director of HP Labs, spoke to a diverse audience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technologys Emerging Technologies Conference, which began Sept. 24.

On Sept. 26, the conference opened with a discussion of Web 2.0 technologies, but the real news came next, when Chien, Jouret and Banjeree agreed that parallel processing is not only on their respective companys radar, but is critical to enable other capabilities.

"Intel is incredibly interested in parallel processing and focused on it," said Chien. "Were trying to foster work in this community."

Chien added that Intel has been shipping multicore processors for some time, but noted that programmers had yet to take full advantage of the capabilities: "We certainly underestimated the challenges in doing that."

However, Chien said, once programmers learn to deal with the capacity of multicore processors, a lot will change. "The explosion of new applications will be as significant as existing applications on parallel processing."


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The use of parallel processing will also decrease energy use, noted HPs Banerjee. He said that just creating software that would take full advantage of the existing hardware could reduce energy consumption by as much as 60 percent. He added that the new capabilities would also mean that programmers will have to learn how to deal with nearly instant access to large volumes of data.

Ciscos Jouret said that his company is already leveraging parallel processing using chips developed in-house. This will give Cisco routers and switches the ability to handle the demands of video when it becomes widespread, he said, adding that Ciscos equipment can handle "lots of packet processing."

However, Jouret said, the ability to offer high-resolution video conferencing depends on the development of applications that can take advantage of the parallel processing capabilities that already exist in Ciscos products. He said that when this happens, Ciscos innovations in collaboration and telepresence will lead to growth in consumer entertainment, as well as in the enterprise. But he noted that, in the meantime, everything depends on bandwidth: "If youre sitting on a DSL line, youre not going to have a very good experience."

Intels Chien said that the growth of parallel processing will also foster the growth of small devices. He noted that, currently, such devices fall short in their intuitiveness, but that the introduction of software and sensors that can take advantage of inference will allow such devices (including cell phones, PDAs and even entertainment devices) to "work seamlessly and enrich our lives." He added that parallelism will move into the consumer community.

HPs Banjeree said that, in addition to reducing power consumption, parallel processing capabilities will enable very high-speed servers with fast access due to high-speed interconnects. "We think of a very cool and integrated environment," he said, adding that such capabilities will enhance business productivity.

In an earlier session at the conference, representatives from Digg, StumbleUpon and NetVibes said that theyre looking for ways to improve the user experience.

Garrett Camp from StumbleUpon said he thinks peer recommendations will lead people to use online content with more confidence. Diggs Kevin Rose agreed, saying that the Digg service is allowing people to use recommendations of friends rather than the user base at large.

Tariq Kim of NetVibes said a major change in user interaction is coming in the form of micro blogs and short group messages, such as those introduced by Twitter earlier this year. He said these new forms of communication can be seen as a new type of messaging service.

The conference, which began with an all-day workshop examining the role of women in technology and exploring ways to get women more involved in physics, continues at MIT through Sept. 26.


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Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...