michaelkirkland.org/blog


On lots and lots of cores

Ars Technica reports on an Intel blog warning developers that we need to adapt an open ended number of cores.

Intel, of course, is primarily worried about making sure people are buying the n-core chips they'll be selling in the years ahead. Of course, that doesn't mean they're wrong, but I don't think the changes, from a coder's view, are going to be as generalized as some seem to. You're not going to get the people smearing their VB on the walls or poking Sharepoint with a stick to wrangle threads. Most of those folks can't even handle pointers without cutting themselves. If they're to see any benefit, it'll have to be done for them at a lower level, and that's fine.

Now, I'm not saying we won't see big changes in how we code. We certainly will. My point in this post is that it doesn't matter. We're going to go through interesting times, and there will be lots of attempts at getting parallelization right, but this is a revolutionary rather than evolutionary change.

The really cool stuff will spring off from the side, where no one was looking. Ars correctly points out that we won't be getting "free" performance upgrades in terms of periodic increases in clock speed anymore. What's important to note is that we will, suddenly, start getting "free" processors no one really cares about because they're idling.

Expect filesystems to get a lot smarter. Need to clear IO cache? Throw a spare core at compressing it rather than just tossing it. This is easy to parallelize, so throw all the idle cores at it.

Expect virtualization to get thrown at all sorts of problems. Need backwards compatibility? Keep whatever you need running on a core in the background.

You'll likely only be running local servers for sensitive or frequently accessed large stores of data. Renting virtual server instances is going to get cheap. When you can fit a few hundred cores into 1U, the price of renting one will probably be rolled into the cost of bandwidth.

Keep in mind, Intel is far from wrong. We still need to find ways to sensibly use lots of cores for singular tasks, but the really neat things will come out of the slack that arises when we don't keep up with them.

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What I've been reading

Intel has announced they won't be using Vista, ever. I'm not the least bit surprised, I mean who would use Vista voluntarily, but I'm impressed they had the balls to so publicly poke Microsoft in the eye.

There a couple of important petitions floating around. The first, at ruinediphone.com is about the absurd pricing structure Rogers is proposing for the iPhone in Canada. The second is for Bill C-555 which very tamely gives some legislative guidelines to some of the rather arbitrary surcharges commonly put on cell phone bills, like the nonsensical "system access fee".

I'd prefer the telecom business be as unregulated as possible, but the government must step in when the market fails as it so blatantly has in this case. Hell, we've fallen well behind the Americans, not to mention the rest of the world.

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