Yesterday Antonio wrote a nice post on the growth of capacity, processing and storage, at the edges, drawing some interesting implications.
That made me think about “the speed” at which this capacity is actually growing…
The recent announcement of the Mac Pro, just last week, was an clear confirmation of the amazing growth that is still taking place. I don’t know about you but the shape of the Mac Pro makes me go back to the Cray 1, built in 1976, the fastest computer in the world! It had an incredible processing power of 100 MFLOPs, and its successor the Cray 2, in 1985 reached 1.2 GFLOPS.
Well, compare this with the 7+ TFLOPS delivered by the Mac Pro. The Mac runs 70 thousands times faster, consumes 1,000 times less power, has a size that is 1.700 times smaller and the cost… well, it has not been announced but it is surely going to be less than the 10 M$ that was charged in 1976 to buy a Cray 1!
So this is the kind of progress the computer industry has made in 37 years! You can say that this is less that you would expect from the Moore’s law: according to Moore’s law one should have achieved an increase of 70 thousands times in “just” 25 years, not in 37 but wait. Here we are comparing apple and oranges. We are comparing a supercomputer (Cray 1) with a mass market (almost) computer. Here we are saying that the performances are 70,000 times better AND the cost is 1,000 times lower! That is a factor of 70 million and that is EXACTLY in line with the Moore’s law! As a bonus, you get a form factor that can let you place the Mac Pro on your desk and you can power it with a fraction of the power used by your fridge. On the contrary, the Cray 1 needed many “fridges” to air condition the room.
Comparing the Cray 1 with today’s Thiane-2 (announced just few days ago, designed and built in China has a performance of 33.86 PFLOS, that is 330 million times faster than the Cray 1, and that is actually faster than what Moore’s predicted by a factor of 10. Indeed experts were not expecting this performance before 2015, we are witnessing an acceleration rather than a slowing down of the Moore’s law!).
The dramatic reduction is cost, making a Cray 1 affordable to all people, as Antonio pointed out a smart phone today has a processing power that is twice as much as the one of Cray 1, has really created huge processing capacity at the edges of the network. Indeed, we should notice that as Moore’s continues to push increased capacity on chips, the reduction is cost multiply the dissemination of those chips, resulting in a capacity that is actually increasing faster than what is forecasted by the Moore’s law.
So far we have not learnt to exploit it as a whole. We are using it to run apps, to have better video but most of this capacity, differently from what happened in the Cray 1, is simple wasted, it does not get used. We are exploiting the increased performances of the single chip, not the one deriving from all the chips taken together, and we have just said that this capacity is increasing at a faster pace than the one of the chip.
This growth of capacity at the edges will change the way services are designed, and operated. It will displace the Telecom Operators business and open the door to a multitude of service providers (to some extent it already has).
New architectures are needed to exploit this untapped capacity. Does it make sense do work on this? Well, from an economic standpoint, the processing power is so cheap that making smart use of it has really low economic incentive.
On the other hand, that unlimited capacity at the edges may open the door to new applications, based on a crowdsourcing model. Parallel evolution in sensors with massive, distributed deployment, in halo nets are likely to take advantage of this capacity. Low power consumption and faster recharging are going to tip the architecture of networks and services in the coming years.