by February 4, 2007 0 comments

Think about the common processing issues you have with the servers in your
data center: the inability to add specialized processors to handle different
kinds of workloads, floating point precision errors when doing financial
calculations requiring further adjustments and problems of compatibility and
interoperability between what you had and what you want to have.

Some of the processors that are slated for imminent release through 2007 and
early 2008 include a bundle of new technologies that will make
these problems a thing of the past. These processors are spread across both the
x86 and non-x86 platforms. This story looks at these technologies and the
benefits they will provide to you.

Decimal math
As kindergarten kids, we learnt how to count and do things with numbers using
our ten fingers. Ancient mathematicians translated this into decimal
mathematics. The infamous original Pentium 1 floating point precision error
proves dramatically fatal when you use computers to calculate missile firing
tables, launching spacecraft, synchronizing automatic medication equipment or
robotic surgical arms, performing year end financial calculations and the like.
This was because it had a floating point bug related to dividing two decimal
system numbers using binary math.

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New CPUs like the expected IBM Power6 processor will include the ability to
do math within the processor using the decimal number system (1,2,3,…) instead
of the binary (0s and 1s). It is easier and faster for the processor (being an
electronic state device) to process 1s and 0s against decimal numerals and math,
and binary will still be the way it does all other processing.

CPU-based VMX
Also known as AltiVec, this is an instruction set that can apply a single
processing instruction to multiple data elements. This finds varied usage in
servers: one can use it to perform business data analysis, genetic data
processing as well as backend video and audio rendering. The technology was
created by Freescale and implemented as VMX by IBM and as Velocity Engine by
Apple. The instruction set, though developed in the late 1990s, was used by a
variety of applications including Adobe Photoshop, Mac OS X, iTunes and
QuickTime, will be seen for the first time in a server-class CPU, the IBM

Hot spare cores
Hot sparing, as you know, is the technology that lets you switch to a secondary
component while the system is turned on and functioning without needing to bring
down the system to make the switch. So far, we’ve seen this applied to
storage, power supplies and memory. Now, you can hot-spare processor cores as

The system automatically and continuously monitors data in the processor
cache. When errors are detected, attempts are made to reload the data and
continue or repeat the last instruction step. If further errors are encountered,
the entire core is hot-spared to a new core in the server and an alert is raised
to the server administrator to troubleshoot the problematic processor or core.

Innovation Socket
While Intel has been busy stuffing as many cores into a single die as can be
done, AMD decided to simply add more processor sockets to their motherboards and
open up the socket specification. This would let you add specialized processors
into sockets you are not plugging multi-core Opteron chips into. Such chips are
envisaged to be dedicated encryption/decryption engines and Java processors
among other possibilities. So, you would take a ‘4×4′ board (as they are
called), add say two Opteron dual cores and one Java processor and increase the
computing power of your server manifold if your processors spend a lot of time
otherwise doing Java. AMD calls this capability ‘Torrens’ and this kind of a
socket the ‘Innovation Socket.’

Time for standardization
The industry has agreed that multi-core hardware and software today are built
around proprietary specifications and realizes that there is a need for a more
‘heterogeneous embedded distributed system.’ The body behind this is called
the ‘The Multicourse Association,’ and they are working towards standards to
create programmable application interfaces (API) for resource management,
communication and transparent inter-process communication.

To contribute to this, the EMBC (Embedded Microprocessor Benchmark
Consortium) has started work on building some kind of benchmarking and
assessment methodology for multi-core processors. These tools are expected to
become available as early as Q2 of 2007. For now the EMBC’s focus will be on
building tools to assess the same kind of cores in a system (eg: all dual core
chips) as against different kinds of cores (eg: a dual core and a quad core) in
the system.

Mind the memory
Consider a server with 8 CPUs with two cores each, making for a total of 16
processing cores. Now, how would this system ensure trouble and error free
memory access? If you also consider technologies like AMD’s Direct Connect
Architecture (discussed last month, Pg 54) which lets the processor core manage
memory via the HyperTransport Controller rather than using a Memory Controller,
the situation gets complicated as you increase the number of cores.

To help ease the situation, processors like IBM’s Power6 will use a
two-layer mechanism to inter-communicate. Here each core would bond directly
(core to core) to three other cores on one layer, each of this group of four
cores would connect to seven other groups (a total of eight core groups or 32
cores in all) using a second layer. This, they say, will keep their cache
memories in sync.

Stay tuned to this series for more on the latest technologies as well as the
technology behind the buzzwords rolling out to power processors of the

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