Intel and Microsoft are clearly concerned that programming is not keeping pace with the increasing number of processor cores on chips. They say they will spend $20 million to create two "Universal Parallel Computing Research Centers" (UPCRC), aimed at accelerating developments in mainstream parallel computing (read as multicore processors) , for consumers and businesses in desktop and mobile computing. The new research centers will be located at the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley), and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). An additional $8 million will come from UIUC, and UC Berkeley has applied for $7 million in funds from a state-supported program to match industry grants.
This is actually Microsoft's 2nd big move in this area. It decided that it needed a nice big supercomputer to simulate all the possibly hundreds of processor cores on future chips. So it struck a deal with the Barcelona Supercomputing Center essentially, to examine some of the same things that Cal and UIUC will be looking into.
In our article about that we called on Cal's David Paterson, who will be heading up one of the new Intel/Microsoft centers for comment. He called the move to multicore "a rare Âopportunity to reinvent computing entirely."
You can see how concern about this topic has been growing simply from our own coverage:
We first talked about it when we profiled Sun's Niagra chip.
Then we started to worry out loud about software in our story about IBM's Cell processor.
We saw that worry in action when we profiled Insomniac Games as they struggled to make use of the Cell in a PS3 game.
And then we looked at possible solution to the programming problem when we profiled RapidMind.
Cal's David Patterson been worrying out loud about the state of multicore programming for some time. He said it to us two years ago in an article about the loss of U.S. Defense Department research dollars. Then, he told us:
"We really don't know how to write software in this new model," Patterson notes. "It's absolutely critical for the future of IT in the United States and around the world that we figure it out."
Still true today.