Intel, AMD multicore chip sales may be slowed by software

Virtualization fills gap while software industry struggles to catch up with Intel, AMD advances

The issue for IT executives today is to try and determine how helpful that doubling - or any increase in processor cores for that matter - might really be until the software problem is solved.

Just ask Dykstra.

"It's really disappointing when you fire up a quad-core and then you see it's really only running on one core," Dykstra said. "All that extra money and expense, and you're not really getting a boost in speed."

In most cases today, only one core of a quad-core chip is used to run software "to its max usage potential, while the other three cores are just sitting there doing nothing," Dykstra said. Therefore, "you have 25 percent CPU usage" in most cases. Taking advantage of all the cores, he added would boost performance by 75 percent.

"It [means] more data is pushed through, [there is] quicker delivery time to clients and it's more money," he added. "That's why we go to vendors and harangue them to do better."

The effort to get multi-threaded software will likely take longer than many IT managers hope, say analysts, due to some basic reasons.

First and foremost, building multi-threaded software is expensive. It's also a difficult task, especially for the many developers who learned how to code single-threaded software, and have done nothing but that for years.

"We have a serious developer problem," noted Rob Enderle, an analyst at the Enderle Group. "People just don't know how to develop" for multicore machines.

"The environment has been single-threaded for so long that developers really haven't developed the skills. It's difficult to take things apart, make them run separately and then have them come together perfectly at the end," he added.

In a statement, Microsoft cited a lack of tools built for creating multi-threaded software.

Margaret Lewis, director of commercial solutions at AMD, predicted that software companies will make major advances in writing multi-threaded code within five years.

But even when multithreaded software starts flowing from vendors, it won't help the many large companies that run internally developed legacy applications that can't easily be replaced. Eventually, companies that want those applications to utilize multicore processors will have to take on a massive job of either rewriting the software or replacing it.

Today's volatile economy also isn't helping the cause of multi-threaded software development, as companies must prove a strong business benefit when seeking to build or buy new technologies, noted Joanne Kossuth, vice president of Operations and Chief Information Officer at the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering.

"The challenge is, in the economic arena we're in right now, cost is critical," she said. "How much will those 12 cores cost and then what am I going to not be able to do? Will I be able to get rid of servers? Will I be able to consolidate?

We can't just ask for the new toys anymore. There has to be a business application for them."

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Sharon Gaudin

Computerworld
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