Who's Free Lunch is Over?

    On Intel chips, we reached 2GHz a long time ago (August 2001), and according to CPU trends before 2003, now in early 2005 we should have the first 10GHz Pentium-family chips. A quick look around shows that, well, actually, we don't. Herb Sutter, Dr Dobb's Journal, February 2005.

Moore's law was formulated by Intel's Gordon Moore in 1965 and suggested that the number of transistors in a given area would double every 18 months. He was right, and the observation prompted many analogies in other areas - including raw CPU speed. This held true and developers could gain speed as a "free lunch" simply by waiting.

> The Free Lunch is Over

Moore's law has ended in terms of raw CPU power as measured in raw clock speed. Developers can no longer expect performance gains by simply waiting. CPU manufacturers are utilising the old maxim of "many hands make light work", and moving to highly parallel architectures. This includes home systems like Sony's Playstation 3 which features 9 CPUs inside a single chip.

Software must be written with parallel systems in mind, changing dramatically the way it is produced. Whilst this is not a problem directly for the audience, this does affect the BBC's long term ability to deliver online.

Taking advantage of these CPUs requires specially designed software. Parallel computing is considered by many as difficult - which needs to change, since in a few years parallel systems will be common, and the BBC will need maximise the use these systems. Online delivery is a naturally highly parallel activity, and so is needs amongst the earliest to benefit after the change.

Challenge: Create a usable system for producing parallel software systems that promotes reuse, resilience, scales on new concurrent hardware platforms, and due to design naturally encourages the design of parallel software systems.


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