Are We Ready for a Multicore Universe?

Arthur Cole

Every time a new generation of multicore technology is released, there is a mixture of anticipation and concern among enterprise professionals.

The anticipation arises from the heightened capabilities and reduced operating expenses that the new chips represent, while the concern centers on the challenges of integrating them into existing software and hardware environments.

AMD's new 6100 series is no exception. Available in configurations up to 12 cores, the chips do an amazing job of addressing many of the memory concerns that previous multicores have left unanswered, according to CTO Edge's Mike Vizard. For one thing, they sport four memory channels, which should be enough to keep data flowing to all 12 cores at a rapid clip. It also supports DDR3 memory, an integral component of the company's Direct Connect Architecture 2.0 platform.

The 6100, along with Intel's new Westmere line, are poised to remake the enterprise in a number of ways, says InfoWorld's Paul Venezia. For one thing, tools like the AES-NI instruction set in the Westmere-EP devices provide a four-fold boost in encryption processing without offloading, providing full-disk security with no performance hit. You'll also get to toy with previously unworkable concepts like software-based RAID and increased virtualization as a way to deal with non-threaded applications.

Uh-oh. There's that dreaded word "threaded" again. The fact that most software packages still do not lend themselves to the parallel nature of multicores has been well-documented. And now it seems that concern extends all the way to the operating system, with some experts contending that nothing short of a full rewrite of the OS will provide an adequate platform for the full power of multicore technology. It's important to note that not everyone agrees with that notion, however.

Regardless, it appears that it will soon be hard to avoid deploying multicores even if you wanted to. Top vendors like HP and Intel have serious dollar signs in their eyes as they prepare to tout the benefits of multicore technology across a range of applications. Everything from 2D and 3D graphic design to high-performance enterprise applications could be on the verge of a major refresh if all goes according to plan.

In the single-core days, Moore's law contended that computing power doubles every 18 months, and many adherents claimed that the trend would never end. They were wrong. Processes eventually became so small that they became too unstable.

Now we have some multicore fans arguing that there is an infinite number of cores waiting to be had. And while it's way too early to start testing the limits of that theory, there seems to be no question that a multicore universe is just around the corner

It remains to be seen, though, whether we'll have all the tools to make the most use of it.

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