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Moore no More?

Optimize Blog - August 17, 2010 - 0 comments

Now, although this is somewhat embarrassing to admit – we find supercomputers rather fascinating and the developments in computing power never cease to amaze us. There, we’ve said it.
Why? Well it’s probably the incredible pace of change as much as anything. 20 years ago PC’s were still horribly basic and stand alone (the internet? Pah!). 15 years ago no-one really used laptops that much and those that did had bad backs from the strain of carrying around the inconveniently heavy lumps of metal and plastic. 10 years ago mobile phones were still pretty much exclusively used for talking to each other and 5 years ago social networking was something most of us did face to face.
What is interesting is that so often it takes military investment to advance technology to the next level via a step-change. And we learned the other day of some of the huge grants provided by the US Military to build so-called ‘exascale’ computers.
We had to look that one up too. An exascale computer is one that works at a level entitled an exaflop – the equivalent of one million, trillion calculations per second. How fast is that? Very. Current supercomputers are only managing a paltry 1,000 trillion calculations per second – charmingly known as a ‘petaflop’.
Advancing computing power is, however, rather evolutionary and follows Moore’s Law – the rule that states that the number of transistors which can fit on a single piece of silicon will double every 18-24 months. The limitations of the current evolution approach are the mushrooming power, management and structural issues that crop up as components shrink.
The secret to the solution therefore is to develop chips that use substantially less power per calculation and a step change in energy efficiency. The US Military recognizes that the ability to manage vast quantities of data is becoming increasingly important and so they have introduced the aforementioned grants to encourage innovation in the design and production of the new chips.
We hear of step-change often in business, usually as a result of some dramatic need to turnaround a performance or to leap frog the competition. However, although conceptually people understand step change, they invariably end up ‘polishing the same apple’ and working in increments because it is known, understood and frankly, safer in terms of risk.
The challenge laid down by the US Military is to think radically and actually develop a step change in performance… an example that we can all learn from. Forward thinking, progressive, companies establish incentive programs to encourage innovation and creative solutions and capture the corporate capability to achieve change.
Does yours?

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