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HP's radical new Machine could start computing by 2016

Joab Jackson | Nov. 3, 2014
Martin Fink, the head of HP Labs, offered a road map for the company's new Machine computer architecture.

HP Labs is working on what Fink called a "clean sheet" OS, called Carbon. The company will publish open-source code as early as next year. It is also modifying a version of Linux, tentatively called "Linux++," to help users transition from the Von Neumann style of computing.

Applications may need to be rethought as well under this new style of computing. In particular, relational databases will seem archaic due to their elaborate mechanisms of indexing and flushing data to disks once a transaction is completed. In the new design, "the notion of secondary persistence goes away," Fink said.

Instead, database operations will be closer to what is known as graph databases, in which a program will look for ways of optimizing all the data available to the particular problem at hand. Fink noted that Facebook has built some expertise in this approach, given that it possesses and routinely processes a dataset of interrelated information of its billion users

Instead of relational databases, Hadoop may be a more natural fit for this new architecture, given that it doesn't need to impose any order on the data itself, Fink said.

Another advantage that the Machine architecture will offer is simplicity, Fink said. Today, the average system may have between nine and 11 layers of data storage, from the super-fast L1 caches to the slow disk drives. Each layer is a tradeoff between persistence and speed. This hierarchy leads to a lot of design complexity, most all of which can be eliminated by the flatter design of using a single, persistent, fast memory.

"Our goal with the machine is to eliminate the hierarchy," Fink said.

 

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