Multi-core Technologyâs Business Impact

By: Jose Allan Tan

Imagine that you have a factory with one assembler and one quality assurance (QA) engineer. Each item that the assembler churns out passes through the QA prior to being packed for delivery. As you add more assemblers on the factory floor, you will reach the optimum efficiency level of the QA engineer. Once you exceed this number, QA becomes the bottleneck.

Fast forward to present-day computing practices. Most enterprises practice the concept of one application per server. In a small business environment, this practice is acceptable as typically you only have a handful of servers performing all of the computing requirements of the business. Management is simple and straight forward.

In large enterprises you have hundreds or thousands of employees with operations situated at multiple locations. You have application servers supporting finance, logistics, human resources, production, purchasing, design and development. You also have your usual file and print servers, as well as several email servers strategically located by regions. IDC estimates that per dollar spent on buying a server, it will cost you $7 to manage it. Your TCO is now running out of control with almost no hope in sight.

To complicate matters, studies have shown that most applications do not fully utilize the computing resources of the servers on which they run. The utilization ranges from 5 to 10 percent depending on the application. Now you have the CIO demanding a recounting of resources and better justification for the request for a new server to house the new application.

Luckily an old technology once available only on very expensive mainframe computers has now found its way into the distributed world of UNIX and Windows environments. Virtualization allows you to create several 'virtual servers' that can house your applications. This raises the utilization levels of existing servers and increases productivity because setting up a new server for a new application will take only hours instead of days or weeks.

Complementing virtualization is a recent advancement in microprocessor design and manufacturing - multi-core. A multi-core microprocessor is one which combines two or more independent processors into a single package. For example, a dual-core device contains two independent microprocessors. With appropriate software, a multi-core processor can perform parallel execution of multiple software threads. The operating system (OS) perceives each of its execution cores as a discrete processor, with all the associated execution resources.

By enabling enhanced performance and more-efficient simultaneous processing of multiple tasks, multi-core processors promise to improve user experiences in both home and business environments.

Benefits of multi-core

Martin Reynolds, vice president at Gartner, believes that "the multi-core initiative is going to be the single greatest performance advance we've seen in the PC processor. For those applications that take advantage of it, you'll get a 50 to 60 percent performance boost. We haven't seen that since the original transition from the Intel 80286 processor to the Intel386 processor."

Multi-core processors allow you to complete today's computing tasks more efficiently and will enable entirely new computing experiences, and the benefits apply to server and client platforms, as well as the home and enterprise environments. Multi-core capability can enhance user experiences in multitasking environments, where a number of foreground applications run concurrently with a number of background applications such as virus protection and security, wireless, management, compression, encryption and synchronization.

By multiplying the number of cores in the processor, you dramatically increase the PC's capabilities and computing resources, which reflect a shift to better responsiveness, higher multithreaded throughput, and the benefits of parallel computing in mainstream applications.

In the Digital Enterprise

The steady increase in the density of systems in data centers is creating power and cooling challenges for many IT organizations. Part of the answer will be multi-core server platforms. By enabling a single processor form factor to serve multiple processor cores, these platforms will provide superior performance and scalability while remaining relatively constant in power consumption, heat and space requirements. As a result, more processing capacity can be concentrated into fewer servers. This means greater density and fewer servers to manage.

IDC's vice president and general manager of Enterprise Computing, Vernon Turner says that "when you quadruple the capacity of today's servers with multi-core processors, you can run new workloads. Typical 4-way servers will handle jobs that previously required midrange or high-end symmetric multi-processing systems. As a result, we will move complex business processes, databases, data mining, and inquiry and data intelligence applications onto industry-standard multi-core servers".

In the Digital Office

Multi-core processors hold the promise of sustaining the enormous increases in computer performance seen over the last quarter century. What will this performance mean for office productivity? Graphic designers, for instance, can render images much more quickly on multi-core systems. The greater responsiveness of multi-core platforms translates to less waiting for everyone in the digital office. For stockbrokers, this could literally mean dollars, as their computers enable more-informed investment decisions and faster trades.

For Mobile Users

Advances in wireless technology have taken mobile computing to places we never dreamed of. Today you will find a business executive working remotely in an airport coffee shop via Wi-Fi. Adding multi-core processors to the mobile mix will expand horizons even more. Incredible new mobile technologies will enable doctors in cities to remotely diagnose patients living in isolated locations (for example).

In 2006, we will see successful deployments of new PCs and servers that take advantage of multi-core technology. The new Intel duo-processor notebooks announced early this year are testament to this development.

"I firmly believe that multi-core processing will change the way we think, build, and manage IT infrastructures. Multi-core processors will be at the foundation of everything we do and how we think about computing," says Turner.

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