Monday, October 03, 2005

Planning Ahead

As I said in my last entry we tend to build software systems for the hardware that we have now and not for the hardware that will exist when the system is mature. To get a glimpse of what is next for software systems we should look at the shape of hardware to come.

According to Moore, the semiconductor people can see 3 technology generations ahead where each generation is about 2 years. They get a doubling of density every 21 or so months. Thus it is safe to extrapolate over the next 6 years, in which time semiconductor density will multiply by a factor of at least 8. Six years ahead is a good target for the software systems that we are designing now.

Given that a current rack server or blade has 2 dual core processors and 4 Gigs of memory, the same system in 6 years time will have 32 processors and 32 Gigs of memory. As I noted previously processors will not get much faster, so extra performance comes from more processors. There is no doubt that this configuration is viable as it is the spec of a typical mid to high end server that you can buy now. A high end system will have several hundred to a thousand processors and perhaps a terabyte of main memory.

What does this mean for software? Well the obvious conclusions are 64 bits to address the large memory and concurrent programs to use all the processors. Slightly more subtle is the conclusion that all data can fit into main memory except for a small number of special cases. All data in main memory turns existing database systems on their head, so a specific conclusion is that we will see a new generation of data management systems.

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