Hardware beats the software

Today there is news that the latest quad core processors are outperforming software.  This is not a new phenomenon. Three years ago I encountered a problem with an IBM System-i 595 which had 32 dual core processors running in tandem and software that keptanother machine of similar specification synchronised with live data. The server was running a single instance of SAP with 5000 users attached and giving great less than 0.4 second response times, but it wasn’t able to process the data created by reapplying the journals to the second machine. After lots of head scratching and in depth debates with IBM and the software vendor it was discovered that the software was unable to use multi-processes and essentially ran everything in series rather than paralell. The result was that however many processors and cores you had it only ever used one. Rather rapidly the software was amended to take advantage of the hardware capability and all was well.

This does emphasise the importance of ensuring that software and hardware vendors must work in concert to get the best results. But I don’t think it will stop there. We are going to see an even bigger issue with hardware through the capabilities of these processors. That is surely going to be data access speeds. To cope with these high process speeds more and more data will need to be held in RAM or solid state. There is simply a limit to the speed at which data can be read from disks, already the spin speed of the disks is now reaching the upper limits before mechanical and physical constraints are reached – this becomes an ever bigger issue as we find ways of having ever bigger disks in terms of capacity with a real constraint on the number of arms possible.

SAP have been working on processing in memory to get full advantage of the ever faster processors and to cope wth ever more complex analytics. IBM have been working on new data storage media. When, where and what this will manifest itself as is still to be seen.

At home the impacts of the change to multicore can also be seen – the funniest is an old PC Game that my son had. It was hilarious to watch. It was a battle simulation type game that when we upgraded his machine to dual core ran so fast that you couldn’t actually play it!  Needless to say the computer always won.