Moore Is Not Enough

April 30, 2006

Moore Is Not Enough

Moore Is Not Enough
By Robin Bloor, Partner

We?ve been living with Moore?s Law* now for about 4 decades. It has remorselessly reshaped the whole computing landscape. Nobody expected the incessant doubling of power to continue this long, but even after 4 decades of extraordinary acceleration there is no sign that it is about to end. As we approach the limits of silicon, Moore?s Law acceleration is still expected to persist for at least another 10 years or so ? and it will persist for longer than that if IBM?s research into carving circuits on carbon nanotubes bears fruit. The end is not in sight.

Moore?s Law delivers truly inconceivable changes. It gave birth to whole industries: the PC industry, the computer games industry, electronic commerce and more. We couldn?t conceive of the increase in power that was being delivered and we couldn?t conceive of the opportunities it would create until they were sitting in our laps. And yet, strange as it may seem, we still hunger for more computer power.
Indeed the indicators suggest that the world is running out of data center space. So here?s the apparent paradox. In the last ten years:

  • Bandwidth costs have fallen by a factor of 10 (and bandwidth availability has mushroomed, making distributed processing arrangements far more viable).
  • Disk storage costs have fallen by a factor of 400 and form factor (per Terabyte) has fallen by a factor of 8.
  • Server costs have fallen by a factor of 10 (for a 4-way server) while server power has increased by a factor of 30, and the form factor has shrunk to the size of a blade.

You?d think that there ought to be an embarrassing surplus of space as everything has shrunk, but the opposite is happening. The truth is that ?Moore is not enough?. We are consuming computer power faster than Moore’s Law is providing it. There’s a Moore-Is-Not-Enough Law in operation, which reads as follows: ?The demand for computer power more than doubles every 18 months. Moore is not enough?.

Sources of Demand

The increasing demand for computer power has several drivers:

  • Image, Sound, Video. You can think of this as three separate causes if you like because the impact of each is slightly different. Digital cameras have proliferated and they are useless without a PC. And the resolution of the photos they take has multiplied in a Moore?s Law kind of way ? demanding more power to use them. Music is now ubiquitous on computers and many PC users play music as they work. Video has proliferated less than image but it?s now exploding and power is needed to create, manipulate and play video. Add to this the fact that anything that exists on a client (i.e. a PC) usually calls for support in some way from a server.
  • Inevitable Scaling. The world just keeps on scaling up. As transaction costs fall (about 30 % each year) more transactions happen because marginal ones that used to be too expensive to computerize or were too expensive to do at all, become viable. Mobile computing only adds to the fire by making it possible to do transactions in completely new situations. More transactions mean more power is needed. Not only do transaction number increase but also the size of data pools more than explodes. Data warehouses seem to multiply in size by a factor of 100 or more every 6 years ? which is Moore?s Law squared.
  • Integration. Integration costs in computer power. Service Oriented Architectures will run less efficiently than the tightly coupled applications they replace and SOA is integration on steroids. But there are other broader integrations happening, particularly VoIP which will dump a significant amount of extra activity into the world of computing, because ?the computer is the (telephone) network?.  There are other large integrations in progress as the computer industry eats the entertainment industry (in the home and through the Internet) and it begins to eat the embedded processor world  – from RFID tags to any device with a chip in it.
  • Virtualization. The first buzz word of the new millennium started out looking like an opportunity to reduce the need for computer power by better utilizing the power that was there. However the convenience of running virtual environments also leads to new ways of using applications. Pretty soon all PCs (starting with Apple PCs) will be running multiple operating systems as an aid to migration. Let?s not forget that IBM started this trend on the server side by putting Linux in virtual machines on the mainframe.
  • Edge Applications. And finally there is the appearance of wholly new uses of computing because the power is there to support it. We are now in at the dawn of Stream Processing, which has started life as a compelling capability for automatic trading in the World?s financial centers, but will eventually find many other areas of application. Surrounding this kind of application is a simple question: Would it make sense to process the whole stream of all transactions taking place in an organization to gain a real-time knowledge of what is happening right now. Well, it depends what an organization does, but in some cases the answer will be ?yes?.

When you survey this whole landscape it quickly becomes clear that there?s no shortage of work for CPUs to do. We need more of them and we need faster ones. We repeat. The Moore-Is-Not-Enough Law is in operation: ?The demand for computer power more than doubles every 18 months. Moore is not enough?.

* (From Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia) Moore?s Law (n.) The observation made in 1965 by Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had doubled every year since the integrated circuit was invented. Moore predicted that this trend would continue for the foreseeable future. In subsequent years, the pace slowed down a bit, but data density has doubled approximately every 18 months, and this is the current definition of Moore’s Law, which Moore himself has blessed. Most experts, including Moore himself, expect Moore’s Law to hold for at least another two decades.


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