Multicore: New chips mean new challenges for developers

More and more help is available so developers can write apps for the new-generation chips

Sun's multicore app-dev aids

Sun Microsystems is considering multicore issues as potential improvements to the Java Virtual Machine. "There's a whole range of optimizations in the JVM that can be done," says Danny Coward, chief architect for client Java at Sun. "We've done some of them. We've got more that we want to [do]."

The Java application layer has supporting functions built into the programming model for applications to take advantage of multiple cores and multiple processors, Coward says. To address parallelism, Sun has taken a two-pronged approach: parallelizing the virtual machine and supporting applications with a concurrency model. This concurrency model is needed where applications do massively serial work, such as large data processing applications, Coward notes.

The 2004 release of Java Platform, Standard Edition (SE) included a concurrency framework that features APIs to let developers process a large amount of data. The framework also lets developers break up a task into smaller tasks to be executed on different threads in parallel, Coward notes.

With the planned Java Developer Kit 7, which is Sun's implementation of Java SE 7, Sun is pondering a new type of garbage collection -- for memory management -- that is more concurrent and parallel. The current Java garbage collector can't always be optimized on multiple cores, Coward says. The kit is planned for late 2009. Also planned for JDK 7 are concurrency APIs such as the fork/join framework.

Multicoreapp-dev tools are increasingly available

Today, corporate developers typically accommodate multicore or multithreaded application development by using IDEs and some level of automated quality assurance, says IDC's Ballou. They tend to use frequent releases to add multicore support incrementally as they gain experience, she adds.

Azul's Click, who once worked on the development of the JVM while at Sun, says there are languages that attempt to address multicore issues. One is Clojure, which provides capabilities for multithreaded JVM programming. Another language in this vein is Scala, which is interoperable with Java, he notes. Click recommends using Java and JDK concurrency utilities and libraries, as well as reading best-practices books such as Brian Goetz's Java Concurrency in Practice.

Among specialty vendors with multicore-oriented tools are Cilk Arts, Coverity, Fortify, RapidMind, and SureLogic.

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