by March 1, 2005 0 comments

Krishana Kumar

One of the most fundamental changes in computing today is happening at its very core, inside the processor. Time was when all you needed to know about a processor was its clock speed. Clock speed has long since ceased to be the only measure of performance. An even more fundamental change is the advent of multiple cores into the same processor. The race is on to produce dual core CPUs and quad, and quintiple cores would then be just a matter of time.

Multiple core CPUs have implications that go beyond just performance. To start with, the software industry is already divided on how to charge. Should each core count as a separate processor? Microsoft believes no, while Oracle says yes. I am sure that the debate has just begun.

There are some interesting possibilities that could emerge. Multi-core processor based servers for example, could make OSs, as we know them, irrelevant. Now, how is that possible? Server virtualization is already a reality in today’s data centers. Virtualization is when one server replaces many, with all applications running on the same machine; but the applications still see dedicated servers. This is achieved by partitioning the server into many virtual servers; each with its own dedicated resources and OS instance. The OS in this case runs not directly on the hardware, but on another software-the virtualization layer. As I write this piece, server virtualization is still not mainstream. It is still practiced only at the very high end of the enterprise. 

Multi-core processors could make every server, and even most desktops do virtualization by default. At this point, the virtualization layer would become the OS, and the OS as we know it today, would become yet another application. It could as well morph into specialized software, fine-tuned to run specific applications like ERP systems on top of the virtualization layer. If that happens the OS as we know of it today would no longer exist, being completely replaced by the virtualization layer.

A mid-sized data center of the future would be just a single server, having a number of compute cores (multiple cores in one processor) running any number of virtual servers, over a newer generation of virtualization layer OS. What was it that they called such systems in the good old days? Mainframes?

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