Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Very Big and the Very Small

K. Asanovic at al., The Landscape of Parallel Computing Research: A View from Berkeley, EECS Department, U. C. Berkeley, UCB/EECS 2006-183, December 2006
(a paper I've cited here before) its authors, which include David Patterson (as in Patterson and Hennesy), remark
Note that there is a tension between embedded and high performance computing, which surfaced in many of our discussions. We argue that these two ends of the computing spectrum have more in common looking forward than they did in the past. [Page 4]
That's been my experience too, although perhaps for different reasons than the authors cite. I’ve made an excellent living flipping back and forth between the high performance and embedded domains. It turns out the skill sets are mostly the same. In particular, developers in both domains are constantly concerned about very low level details in the realm where software runs close to bare metal, and are always dealing with issues of real-time, asynchronicity, parallelism, and concurrency. These are relatively rare skills that are hard to come by for both the employer and the employee.

I was reminded of this as my tiny one-man company, Digital Aggregates Corporation, buys its fourth Android tablet to use as a development system. These tablets contain powerful multi-core ARM-based processors as well as other embedded microcontrollers and devices. And increasingly I am seeing the embedded and mobile device domains adopt technologies originally developed for large-scale systems, like Security Enhanced Linux (SELinux) and OS-level containerization like Linux Containers (LXC).

I’ve seen large development organizations axe their firmware developers as the company decided to get out of the hardware business to focus on large multi-core server-side software applications. What a remarkable lack of insight into the nature of the technologies on which their businesses depend.

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