Intel, Microsoft join up on multi-core research

Parallel computing to be studied at two universities

Intel and Microsoft have announced that they are teaming up with two universities to build research centers that will focus on advanced research into parallel computing.

The two companies have agreed to stump up a combined US$20 million (NZ$25.3 million) in funding for Universal Parallel Computing Research Centrers at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The University of Illinois has committed US$8 million, and UC Berkeley has applied for US$7 million in funds from a state-supported program to match industry grants.

Andrew Chien, vice president of Intel's Corporate Technology Group, says "I'm very excited about the quality of the team we've been able to pull together.

"The Universal Parallel Computing Research Centrers represent some of the best in industry/university collaborations," he says.

"We're going to be able to work together on some of the biggest problems that face the industry."

Parallel computing refers to the ability to split up a single task between multiple processors. The basic idea is that problems can be handled more efficiently if one big task can be split up into smaller ones.

As companies like Intel, AMD and IBM continue to push out processors with more than one core, there's an increasing need for software designed to take advantage of the multi-cores. Without software optimisation, there's little benefit to dual-core, quad-core or any other multiple processor.

The number of cores is expected to jump considerably in the coming years — Intel has said its researchers are working on an 80-core processor.

"Intel has already shown an 80-core research processor, and we're quickly moving the computing industry to a many-core world," says Chien. "Working with Microsoft and these two prestigious universities will help catalyse the long-term breakthroughs that are needed to enable dramatic new applications for the mainstream user."

Intel and Microsoft say they evaluated 25 institutions before deciding to place the research centers at UC Berkeley and the University of Illinois.

Work at the research center at UC Berkeley will be done by 14 members of the university's faculty, as well as 50 doctoral students and post doctoral researchers. Twenty-one faculty members and 26 graduate students and researchers will run the research centre at the Illinois site.

Software developed by the centres will be made available to the technology community for additional development, according to both companies.

"The shift of hardware technology from single-core to multi-core will have a profound effect on the way we develop software in the future," says Tony Hey, corporate vice president of external research at Microsoft Research. "It will affect how we develop software for laptops, servers and supercomputers. By working with Intel, UC Berkeley and the University of Illinois, we'll be exploring the next generation of hardware and software that will unlock the power of parallel computing."

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