A month or so ago I heard a lecture from someone at Los Alamos who has talking about their efforts with IBM on their latest specialized grid solution. The lecture started by talking about Moore’s law, the progression of smaller and more powerful chip sets and how if you keep making things smaller with more power that over time the logical conclusion is a kind of ‘singularity event’ with a bright flash of light. There was a pause while the audience figured out what he was saying (it go boom!), and then the laughter came. The dry delivery was, as a current advertisement says, priceless. But it points out the issue: we can’t assume there is no end to increasingly denser, more powerful chips. There are limits that imply compensating design strategies.
As we in ‘z’ know, strategies for extending systems capacity have been around a long time. There were attached and multi processors (AP, MP) decades ago. Systems evolved to horizontally add specialized processors for IO processing (SAP), vector processing, and cryptographic functions. Loads of queuing studies led to carefully designed and balanced buffer hierarchies to feed the engines. Balanced Systems Performance was a key phrase that reminded us all that a faster chip without overall system design improvements was pretty ineffectual.
Recently, while IBM has been visible in grids that are widely, geographically networked (e.g. World Community Grid), System z has been extending the horizontal and parallel processing strategy with the addition of specialty processors like the ZIIP, ZAP, IFL, and the ICF engine for the coupling facility. It should be happily noted that some have pointed out the seemingly serendipitous ‘cost engineering’ effects of moving specialized functions to these processors; a serious financial outcome from good technical design.
System z continues to evolve, and looking forward, there are processing challenges in areas like XML, security, and analytics that could benefit from better cost and performance improvements. These workloads may be logical candidates to be enfolded in the System z sphere as specialty engines. Of course, as Ian Richardson used to say as the politician Francis Urquhart in the BBC thriller ‘House of Cards’: " You might well think that; I couldn't possibly comment ".