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Hardware Computing Performance Will Stage a Comeback: IBM CTO

Comments(0)Filed under: EDA tool vendors, Electronic Design Automation, EDA tool companies, EDA tools, EDA, EDA companies, IBM, DAC 2013, microprocessors, Apple, EDA vendors, electronics design, computing, IT hardware, IT, computers, Hardware IT, IT spending, compute performance, IT spend, computer architecture

AUSTIN, Texas—Here's what we know: Moore's law is in trouble as physics and economics conspire to hamstring semiconductor scaling.

Here's what we also know: Hardware IT as a trusted source of significant compute-performance improvements every 18 months is no more. Design priorities—because of the scaling issues—have shifted in recent years to efficiency and power management within IT departments.

Here's what we might not realize: Hardware IT performance as the dominant computing design priority will stage a comeback in the next few years. 

At least that's what Brad McCredie, chief technology officer for IBM's systems and technology group, believes. And McCredie should know: He's a PhD who worked on a number of IBM Power architectures in the ‘90s and early 2000s and has had a ringside seat to the evolution of IT hardware and customer demands along the way.

At a talk at the Design Automation Conference this year in Austin, McCredie laid out the bare and often uncomfortable facts about shifting design priorities. But he also sketched a vision of revitalized hardware performance that gets rewarded, as the priority pendulum swings anew.

Shifting spending

McCredie, in a so-called SKY Talk here, told the DAC audience that in 1996 63 percent of new server spending was on computing hardware and 30 percent on service management and administrative costs.

Today, 20 percent of budgets are spent on computing hardware and nearly 70 percent on service management and admin costs.

Said McCredie:

"Right now, most of Fortune 500 companies look at IT right now as a place to save money. I can't tell you the number of large company CIOs who say ‘the budgets will go down, the budgets will go down.' If you can't convince them they will save money, they won't buy your stuff."

He pointed to the famous NVidia slide that shows the pricing crossover trends for transistors (where devices built on the next process node becomes cheaper than the last) essentially end with the 28-20nm transistor. There is, in other words, no savings to be had by moving to the next node.

New priorities

Design priorities therefore are shifting from high-performance computing with high-performance microprocessors to more efficient designs and power-aware solutions.

Similar trends are happening in automotive and avionics where designers have shifted from power and performance to efficiency with cars like the Toyota Prius and the Chevy Volt and planes like the Boeing 787, he added.

McCredie (pictured below left) said:

"The IT industry is going through the same thing. If you're doing to drive on the performance angle, that's good. But the rule is everyone has to get more efficient. We have to innovate along a different axis."

He added:

"You can see that also when you're designing chips: It's more important to get more functions on one piece of silicon than it is to get more performance out of one piece of silicon."

(For more on silicon-design transformations, please see "NVidia's GPU License Plan Illustrates System-Design Transformation" and "The Rise Of The Subsystem And New IP Providers".)

Cloud formation

By 2018, the IT hardware business will shift back, however, to a hardware- and computing performance-driven sale. Why?

Two words: The Cloud.

Cloud computing has emerged as a way for companies to drive cost out of their business and gain efficiencies. In the process, companies have learned a huge lesson thanks to the likes of Google, Amazon, and Apple. They disrupted advertising, retail and music distribution by leveraging the Internet. But for them to do it cost-effectively, they needed to invest in a lot of low-cost IT hardware compute power. In the process, they created the cloud.

Kick butt

Today, businesses are realizing that the cloud computing is not just about cost savings but about business agility.

McCredie said:

"People look and say ‘holy cow, I can buy a pile of low-cost computers and disrupt an industry and make a whole lot of money. At that point, IT is viewed as a business weapon to go kick somebody's butt."

McCredie estimates that in five years 65 percent of new compute server spending will be on hardware, with 25 percent going to IT admin costs and 10 percent to power and cooling functions.

Analytics and big data are enabling people to dive into data, figure something out, and make money off it, and that's the force that's going to drive more hardware IT spending in the next five years, McCredie argued.

Brian Fuller

Related stories:

--Differentiation Through Hardware Is Not Going Away

--NVidia's GPU License Plan Illustrates System-Design Transformation 

-- Samsung DAC 2013 Keynote: EDA, Semis "Not Well Prepared" for Next Mobile Revolution

--Freescale CEO at DAC 2013: "Internet of Things" Brings Opportunities, Challenges

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