Gartner: Multicore chips leave software trailing

The growth of multicore processors is too fast for software, which struggles to use the technology effectively, research firm says.

Colin Barker Special to CNET News
2 min read

Gartner sounded a warning on Wednesday about the impact on software of the rapid growth of multicore chips and the number of threads each processor can handle.

In a research note, the analysts argued that software is struggling to keep pace with the fast growth of multicore processors, first from two and four cores per processor, and now to eight and even 32 cores in high-end servers. With 32 processors per socket already shipping, four years from now machines could host 1,024 processors, Gartner said.

Analyst Carl Claunch said: "Many of the software configurations in use today will be challenged to support the hardware configurations possible, and those will be accelerating in the future."

Running advanced multicore machines with today's software is like "putting a Ferrari engine in a go-cart," he said.

Part of the problem, Claunch said, is the speed of innovation in today's chip design. Chips develop with more cores and each core gets more threads as well, adding to the issue, he said. Each generation turns the same number of sockets into twice as many processors.

Claunch said the software that runs today's servers has both hard and soft limits on the number of processors. Part of the problem was that it was difficult to find out what the limits were, he added.

"An operating system might use an eight-bit field to hold the processor number, meaning a hard limit exists of 256 processors," Claunch said. "Soft limits, however, are uncovered only from word-of-mouth, real-world cases. They are caused by the characteristics of the software design, which may deliver poor incremental performance or, in many cases, yield a decrease in useful work as more processors are added."

The issue meant there were limits on the architecture of systems, caused by the software. "The net result will be hurried migrations to new operating systems in a race to help the software keep up with the processing power available on tomorrow's servers," Claunch said.

Colin Barker of ZDNet UK reported from London.