From the first computers of the 1940s through the machines of the 1990s, all computer systems were CPUbound. In other words, the I/O interfaces could deliver more data than the CPU could process. In the 1990s Moore’s Law took over and clock speeds doubled every 18 months, along with the addition of multi-core processors. So, from 1990 through today, we have been I/O-bound, meaning CPUs can now process more data than the I/O links can deliver. Increases in CPU performance have been revolutionary while the increases in interconnect bandwidth have been incremental for many decades. However, bandwidth increases in RapidIO, InfiniBand, and Ethernet are breaking this bottleneck, giving us the ability to design incredibly powerful embedded supercomputing architectures for today’s dataintensive applications.

From PCI to Infiniband

Figure 1. 4-dimension hypercube (Image courtesy of Wikipedia)
The primary reasons for the debilitating delay in I/O bandwidth innovation over the years can be attributed to Intel and the PC. The incredibly slow and high-latency interfaces like PCI and PCIe were more than adequate for slow pedestrian applications, which are the Holy Land of PC usage. The accumulated knowledge and incorrigible RTL code (for the PCI chips) perpetuated the continued use of these outdated I/O interface concepts, and they have put the computing industry twenty years behind where we should be on the bandwidth performance curve. But, that seems to be changing. Back in January, Intel bought the InfiniBand design team and the product line from QLogic. InfiniBand is the highest-speed, lowest-latency interconnect on the market today, especially for InterProcessor Communications (IPC) links in multiprocessor systems.

To date, InfiniBand has been used to hook together hundreds or thousands of processors to build clustered Linux servers. So why, after all these years, has Intel finally taken an interest in high-speed supercomputing interconnects like InfiniBand? In two words: Cloud Computing. And, what is the primary application in the Cloud? It’s data mining. Google, Facebook, Linked In, Amazon, Yahoo...they are all drooling over the prospects of data mining. But, to build these advanced machines will require entirely new architectures that break the chains that bound us in the past.

And yes, there are many applications for supercomputing architectures in em bedded applications, especially in the military. These applications range from ad vanced radar systems, to sonar, signal intelligence (SIGINT), communications intelligence (COMINT), systems that run SWARM algorithms (for squadrons of UAVs and UUVs), and in electronic warfare (EW) systems. In addition, data mining is another arena where supercomputers can be used in military intelligence data gathering and analysis.

The cloud-based computing machines will be highly commoditized boxes made in China, so that market is not very attractive. But, the components used in those commodity-oriented cloud machines (InfiniBand chips and the advanced CPUs) can be used, under the influence of intelligent thinking, to build extremely powerful embedded supercomputers.

Embedded Technology Magazine

This article first appeared in the October, 2012 issue of Embedded Technology Magazine.

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