Cisco's Giancarlo: There's a new computer bus in town

Cisco's Giancarlo: There's a new computer bus in town

Summary: Here at MIT's September 2005 Emerging Technologies Conference, Cisco senior vice president and chief development officer Charles Giancarlo said it's time for a rethink on what a computer is.  Harkening back to a Sun tagline that says "The Network is the Computer," Giancarlo talked about how today's network switches are as fast as the backplanes of the computers that are connected to them, creating new opportunities to disintermediate the computer's bus when connecting processors to storage.

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TOPICS: Processors
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giancarlo.jpgHere at MIT's September 2005 Emerging Technologies Conference, Cisco senior vice president and chief development officer Charles Giancarlo said it's time for a rethink on what a computer is.  Harkening back to a Sun tagline that says "The Network is the Computer," Giancarlo talked about how today's network switches are as fast as the backplanes of the computers that are connected to them, creating new opportunities to disintermediate the computer's bus when connecting processors to storage.  "It's time to move the backplane on to the network and redesign the computer" advised Giancarlo.

Giancarlo believes this "tipping point" in terms of switches being on performance par with computer buses is what's happening at the infrastructure level that's going to drive the next wave of innovation.  Already, companies like VMWare and Virtuozzo have figured out how to virtualize X86 computers.  So, you can imagine that once the processor is virtualized and once a computer's bus is elimated, you essentially have a new kind of computer (a virtual processor connected to a virtual bus).  What happens next is anybody's guess.  But it's definitely food for innovation.  For example, it gives new meaning to the term operating system.  Expounding on that notion, Giancarlo said:

The way we address larger scale problems [today] is to fragment them onto thousands of processors rather than layering the operating system across a large number of processors and resources. Maybe the operating system itself needs to change.  The operating system makes an assumption that you have all these things; processors, memory, disk, etc.  If all of them are virutalized, split up, and available on demand, then why not use open dialogues and open concepts to coordinate the communicatoin between them?  Why use a closed operating system?

[Editor's Note: David's photographs of the two-day MIT conference can been seen in these galleries: Day One and Day Two.]

Topic: Processors

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  • Throughput != latency

    There is usually a few kilometer limit in the usefulness of remote storage. It doesn't matter if the throughput is there if the latency is high.

    There is also a lot more complexity and dependency involved when you're talking about a computer that spans a LAN. It's very interesting for high-power computing but not necessarily desirable for conventional computing.
    george_ou
    • Very true, but...

      ...it would definitely help enterprise computing, and also to an extent even web-based computing: picture back-end systems powered by hundreds of conventional servers, replaced by a "virtual" cluster of physically separated storage, processing, and memory subsystems (well, network attached memory is a bit of a stretch right now...).

      I'd like to see wider use of jumbo frames - or even a new standard for super-jumbo frames up to 64Kbytes in length. Imagine an entire TCP segment sent in a single frame. Unimaginable a few years ago, but with 10- & 40-Gigabit rates, it's certainly plausible. The 1514-byte Ethernet frame has outlived its usefulness in the optically wired LAN.
      NetArch.
      • yeah but...

        Who and how many people/company can afford this 'Gigabit' connections ? I'm here still waiting for Verizon to install FIOS so that I can get over the 1M upload speed for my home office. The Gigabit network connection is not going to happen in the next 'few' years. Maybe in a 10 year timeframe.
        JJ_z
  • Instead of, say, 4 cpu's with 20 million

    transistors each in a SMP environment, why not create one processor with 80 million transistors.

    Then either approach, the old and the new addressed here, could be implemented depending on what was needed.

    Latency and throughput would no longer be a factor.
    bjbrock
  • The HyperText Computer

    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HyperText_Computer
    drp@...