“Soon we will use only one thousandth of available computer capacity”

Professor Henri Bal
Professor Henri Bal, who tries to wake up the Netherlands to start going big on parallel programming

At StreamHPC we mostly work for companies in the bigger countries of Europe and North America. We hardly work for companies in the Netherlands. But it seems that after 5 years of sleeping, there is some shaking. Below is a (translated) article with the above quote by Prof. Dr. Ir. Henri Bal, professor at the Computer section at the Vrije University of Amsterdam.

Lack of knowledge of parallel programming will cause a situation where only one thousandth of the capacity of computers will be used. This makes computations unnecessarily slow and inaccurate. That in turn will slow down the development of the Dutch knowledge economy.

Sequential programming, instructing computers to perform calculations in a queue, is now the standard. Computers processors, however, are much more sophisticated and able to perform thousands or even millions of computations simultaneously. But the programming of such many-cores “is still in its infancy, industries that rely heavily on data, can not perform optimally”, claims Ball.

The value of parallel programming, according to Ball, is of enormous importance, for example, meteorology and forensics. “For weather forecasting data from the dense network of computers need to be quickly and accurately processed to have a weather forecast for tomorrow, not after 48 hours,” he says. “In forensics all data should be explored in the first 24 hours after a crime as soon as possible and through pattern recognition all data, for no trace to be lost. The video material of 80,000 security cameras which was manually searched through after the attack on the London Underground in 2005 – with parallel computing methods this can now rapidly be executed by the computer.”

If the Netherlands wants to widen the gap investments are necessary, says Bal. The focus should be on research and teaching. “Investments in research on programming new massively-parallel machines are required to gain knowledge. Thus it must be examined how programs should be written for parallel computing methods and what extent of parallel calculations can be performed automatically. In teaching our future programmers need also to be prepared for the new standards of parallel programming. Only then the Netherlands can make optimal use of the available computer capacity. “

I think my fellow countrymen will be surprised they can find help just around the corner. And if they wait two more years, then 1000x speed-up from sequential programs are indeed becoming possible.

Have you seen similar articles that sequential programming is slowing the knowledge economy?