That’s the goal of Intel’s experimental Single-chip Cloud Computer project, or SCC. The company is now researching potential mobile applications for the chip, as well as developing tools that will make it easier for developers to take advantage of this technology without becoming supercomputing experts.
In other words, as ARM seeks to put cellphone chips into our supercomputers, Intel is doing the reverse. The lines between the mobile hardware and data-center hardware are blurring. That may seem odd at first, but if you step back and look at the bigger picture, it only makes sense. Big-time data-center operations want the ulta-low-power profiles of the hardware in our cellphones, and the mobile world is hungry for the computational punch you get from much larger systems.
Intel Labs technology evangelist Sean Koehl says that its 48-core creation, first discussed in 2009, acts as a “network” of processors on a single chip, with two cores per node. The nodes actually communicate to each other much the same way nodes in a cluster in a data center would. “We thought there may be some advantages to having an architecture within a chip that resembles the architecture around it,” he explains.
Intel Labs has been working on many-core chips since around 2004, and the more immediate applications will probably be in servers and, yes, supercomputers, which are essentially a bunch of servers working in tandem. This is often called high-performance computing, or HPC.
Whether you’re dealing with a high-end supercomputer, a cluster of commodity servers running Hadoop, or a cluster built out of Legos and ultra-cheap Raspberry Pi computers, HPC depends on parallel processing — breaking down big problems into smaller problems that are solved by different processors running in parallel. What Intel Labs is now researching is whether this approach will make sense for mobile computing.