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Core Issues

The answer to the Great Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is 42 (as Douglas Adams notes in The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy series). Apparently, the answer to the Great Question of Server Processor Performance is even greater -- 48, if Azul Systems is to be believed.
That's how many independent processing cores Azul plans to place on its Vega 2 processor, for which it expects to have systems ready sometime in 2007. The resulting products will scale up to a potential 768-way multiprocessing system with up to 768 gigabytes of memory, which is a ferocious amount of computing power coming out of one rack to be able to throw at any computing task. Azul says performance-per-watt will improve with the Vega 2 as well, meaning that it's done a lot to control the heat that 48 cores will generate in use.

Now, the question is, will companies be able to take full advantage of that many cores on a chip? Panelists at one conference at last week's Multicore Expo certainly believe that the future of computing -- and particularly server computing, of course -- is in multicore design and execution. But they also noted that the software community is lagging behind the processor design community in taking advantage of the power afforded by multicore environments. It's not even that the final-product software doesn't exist yet, either; there's a dearth of efficient multicore development environments to even get to a solid multicore architecture. That needs to be rectified, and fast; the enterprise is going to demand all the processing power that's available from multicore systems in the data center, and not too far down the road either. That can't happen without the right software to get every bit of efficiency out of multicore chips. It's a challenge that software designers need to meet without delay.