Dawn of the Desktop Supercomputers

No matter how new your office computer might be, sooner or later you begin to notice that the thing just isn't running fast enough to satisfy your desire to get your work done ASAP, especially on a Friday afternoon. Of course, it couldn't be your own fault that the calculations you need to put that last crucial piece of data into the important report due on Monday are taking so long to compile. So it has to be the fault of your desktop unit, ancient relic that it is (installed in the bygone era of last month's companywide IT upgrade cycle).

That sense of rising expectations among personal computer users has caused the world's hardware vendors to pull out all the practical stops to address the need for speed with ever more exotic architectures and processors, within the financial constraints of economies of scale. Dual-core processors are now the rage, with quad-core devices hot on their heels. And pity the poor fool who has not been updated from a 32-bit architecture to a 64-bit one.

Need even more power dedicated to your own personal use whenever you want it, like right now? You could try hogging the server farm when your chips are down (pun intended), but that unsympathetic clod who calls himself a systems administrator keeps blocking your access requests with sarcastic usage request replies. Where's Moore's Law when you need it, for heaven's sake (it's nearly 5 o'clock)?

Well, hope may be on the horizon. It won't come soon enough to get you out of today's predicament, but it could give you something to dream about over the weekend.

From this week's Supercomputing 07 Conference in Reno, Nev., comes a report from The Economist, "More's Law", that says the march of the supercomputers from the chilly vaults of the computer science lab to a desktop near you is on in earnest.

The reporter for The Economist points to two small U.S. firms, SiCortex and Scalable Servers Corp., that have plans in the works to make sure you have the fastest personal computing machines on the planet available at your every whim whenever you want.

The motto of SiCortex is "Teraflops from Milliwatts." It's company website declares: 'By worrying every milliwatt, and thereby getting the heat out, SiCortex has collapsed a roomful of 64-bit computing power down onto a single backplane in a single compact cabinet...'

To this end, the Maynard, Mass., firm has just debuted its SC072 Catapult, a 72-processor, Linux-based screamer that might be able to fit into your cubicle for the mere pittance of US $15 000.

Over at Scalable Servers, in Fremont, Calif., the company boasts it 'provides modular and scalable technical computing server solutions to technical professionals who run parallel-cluster computing application or non-parallel computing tasks.'

It has also rolled out a desktop monster this month, the SSC flexBLADE, a 1500-watt modular x86 blade cluster (price not announced) that fits in a box so small you could park it next to your file cabinet.

So get those calculations completed between now and Monday, and if you have any free time left over, just think, someday soon one of these sweet rides could be yours, all yours. And you'll never have to work late again. Until the next preposterously enormous challenge is thrown your way in the unrelenting future.

Have a nice weekend.


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