This week IBM, Samsung, New York State, and Global Foundries announced a new high capacity silicon chip made with a combination of Silicon and germanium.
Are IBM et al, leading us in the right direction? As the width of connections on chips reach the atomic diameter of the individual atoms of the silicon connectors, EUV etch stations and change in deposition technology are just he tip of the CAPEX impact required to transition and follow the consortium’s lead. At approximately $2B per FAB cost in the near future, who can afford to follow? What ripples in the ecosystem of silicon equipment manufacturing will this cause and at the commodity pricing of today’s market can the ASPs tolerate this new move? Even though Intel mentions 7-Nano occasionally there seems to be no defined roadmap to get there. Consortiums and research are good things. However, we now have to figure out practical steps to get to the future the consortium has described.
I’ve been digesting and expanding on an interesting white paper authored by the Microsoft Azure Incubation team titled: Building the Internet of Things– Early learnings from architecting solutions focused on predictive maintenance. I agree with the premise tha ubiquity in connection technology will be the key enabler and that predictive maintenance will probably be required to instantiate a true global ubiquitous connection state. Recently MS is changing their terminology from Internet of Things to Internet of Everything (IoE). Here I use them interchangeably A key technical enabler of the Internet of Things (IoT) is ubiquitous connectivity. A week or so ago I blogged about a new technology called Active Steering(TM) which should be the winner in patented connectivity hardware/Software/Firmware for antenna products.
Just imagine that the antenna on your device was constantly sampling the wireless signals around your location and finding the strongest source and directing the focus of the antenna to that source. That is what an Active Steering antenna does on your phone, tablet or PC. By using this technique the system is also performing predictive maintenance on the connectivity configuration for your specific device and location. Let’s first look at the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model. Even though the Internet model uses a simplified abstraction, the models in the previous figure and the associated well-known logical protocols are comparable. Application-layer protocols are not concerned with the lower-level layers in the stack other than being aware of the key attributes of those layers, such as IP addresses and ports. The right side of the figure shows the logical protocol breakdown transposed over the OSI model and the TCP/IP model.
Special-purpose devices differ not only in the depth of their relationship with back-end services, but in the interaction patterns of these services when compared to information-centric devices because of their role as peripherals. They are not the origin of command-and-control gestures; instead, they typically contribute information to decisions, and receive commands as a result of decisions. The decision-maker does not interface with them locally, and the device acts as an immediate proxy; the decision-maker is remotely connected and might be a machine. We usually classify interaction patterns for special-purpose devices into the four categories indicated in the following figure.
All of these models need uninterrupted connectivity to enable the ultimate user experience that Windows 10 could offer with the addition of Active Steering Technologies at the Platform level.
The Future Work is an attempt to show how enterprises need to adapt to the changes in order to stay relevant in 2014 and beyond. Check out these links and judge for yourself if Intel and Microsoft are headed in the right directions.
As heterogeneous computing starts to grow, intelligent networking will be the facilitators of smart enterprise systems architecture. Basically hardware vendors are beginning to put intelligent silicon on network adaptors. This provides the ability through deep packet inspection to realistically provide Network Function Virtualization (NFV) and true Software Defined Networks (SDN) as a part of hardware/software computing infrastructure. This requires an intelligent NIC, Software Defined Networks (SDN) & Web Services/Cloud Servers must be engineered to “be aware” of the intelligence in the hardware so that software can make smart choices based on business logic context.
Here is a copy of Ballmer’s internal email to all Microsoft employees:
From: Steve Ballmer To: MS FTEs Date: Sep. 2, 8:00 PM PDT (Sep. 3, 6:00 AM EET) Subject: Accelerating Growth
We announced some exciting news today: We have entered into an agreement to purchase Nokia’s Devices & Services business, which includes their smartphone and mobile phone businesses, their award-winning design team, manufacturing and assembly facilities around the world, and teams devoted to operations, sales, marketing and support.
For Microsoft, this is a bold step into the future and the next big phase of the transformation we announced on July 11.
We are very excited about the proposal to bring the best mobile device efforts of Microsoft and Nokia together. Our Windows Phone partnership over the past two and half years has yielded incredible work – the stunning Lumia 1020 is a great example. Our partnership has also yielded incredible growth. In fact, Nokia Windows Phones are the fastest-growing phones in the smartphone market.
Now is the time to build on this momentum and accelerate our share and profits in phones. Clearly, greater success with phones will strengthen the overall opportunity for us and our partners to deliver on our strategy to create a family of devices and services for individuals and businesses that empower people around the globe at home, at work and on the go, for the activities they value most.
This is a smart acquisition for Microsoft, and a good deal for both companies. We are receiving incredible talent, technology and IP. We’ve all seen the amazing work that Nokia and Microsoft have done together.
Given our long partnership with Nokia and the many key Nokia leaders that are joining Microsoft, we expect a smooth transition and great execution.
As is always the case with an acquisition, the first priority is to keep driving through close, which we expect in the first quarter of 2014, following approval by Nokia’s shareholders, regulatory approvals, and other closing conditions.
But I also know people will have some questions about what happens post-close. While details aren’t final, here is what we know, and how we’re generally approaching integration:
1. Stephen Elop will be coming back to Microsoft, and he will lead an expanded Devices team, which includes all of our current Devices and Studios work and most of the teams coming over from Nokia, reporting to me.
2. Julie Larson-Green will continue to run the Devices and Studios team, and will be focused on the big launches this fall including Xbox One and our Surface enhancements. Julie will be joining Stephen’s team once the acquisition closes, and will work with him to shape the new organization.
3. As part of the acquisition, a number of key engineering leaders will be joining Microsoft from Nokia, reporting to Stephen in his new capacity:
· Jo Harlow, who will continue to lead the Smart Devices team
· Timo Toikkanen, who will continue to lead the Mobile Phones team
· Stefan Pannenbecker, who will lead Design
· Juha Putkiranta, who will lead the integration effort on Nokia’s behalf
4. Regarding the sales team, we plan to keep the Nokia field team, led by Chris Weber, intact and as the nexus of the devices sales effort, so that we can continue to build sales momentum. After the deal closes, Chris and his team will be placed under Kevin Turner. We will develop a single integrated team that is selling to operators, and there may be other integration opportunities that we can pursue. Kevin will work with Chris Weber and Chris Capossela to make those plans.
5. Our operating system team under Terry Myerson will continue unchanged, with a mission of supporting both first-party and third-party hardware innovation. We are committed to working with partners, helping them build great products and great businesses on our platform, and we believe this deal will increase our partner value proposition over time. The established rhythms and ways of working between Terry and his team and the incoming Nokia team will serve us well to ensure that we do not disrupt our building momentum.
6. We are planning to integrate all global marketing under Tami Reller and Mark Penn. It is very important that we pursue a unified brand and advertising strategy as soon as possible.
7. Finance, Legal, HR, Communications, DX / Evangelism, Customer Care and Business Development will integrate functionally at Microsoft. Sourcing, customer logistics and supply chain will be part of Stephen’s Devices organization. ICM / IT will also integrate functionally for traditional IT roles. We will need to work through the implications for factory systems given the differing manufacturing processes and systems at both Nokia and Microsoft.
8. We plan to pursue a single set of supporting services for our devices, and we will figure out how to combine the great Nokia efforts into our Microsoft services as we go through the integration process.
9. There are no significant plans to shift where work is done in the world as we integrate, so we expect the Nokia teams to stay largely in place, geographically.
10. Tom Gibbons will lead the integration work for Microsoft.
While today’s announcement is big news, we have to stay heavily focused on running the current business. We have a huge fall and holiday season ahead of us, so we need to execute flawlessly and continue to drive our business forward. I have no doubt we will.
The dramatic growth in smartphone, tablet and vertical market portable devices e.g., medical instrumentation is starting to drive major change at big tech companies. If you watch product offerings and new positioning of Google, Microsoft, and Apple, you’ll see that significant investments are geared toward the mobile consumer and mobile information worker. These products require new device technologies such as flexible silicon and Thin flexible substrates for interconnect technology.
A good example of this is the lighting fast reorganization of Intel after Brian Krzanich’s installation as CEO. Under Otellini’s tenure Intel missed a huge opportunity to become the chip supplier to Apple for iPhones even though the traditional conservative “number crunching/data driven” advice given to Paul Otellini went against his gut, Intel passed on the opportunity. Their analysis misjudged the potential volume by a factor of 100 and over estimated the costs of manufacturing. Basically the conservative mindset of “group think” there projected the iPhone as a losing business proposition. See here The new CEO has immediately reorganized the global enterprise to make it more agile and created a New devices Group reporting directly to him. See here
Hopefully this will open Intel up to address new markets and new types of Si architecture along with manufacturing processes. Also the industry will hopefully follow Intel’s lead and innovate even more in this hot technology domain When you look at flexible silicon and thin film technologies, the future is clear. New companies will grow to tech giants that embrace this technology and benefit from lessons learned from the old tech giants.
When we look at the history of the PC industry, we see that while Moore’s Law is fantastic, it is always outpaced by consumer demand. Market expanding software solutions can be developed faster than hardware solutions to develop but are frequently performance constrained by the limits of running on general purpose processors. Eventually IHVs see a large enough market and have time for development of custom silicon to parallelize the process. This lag time between when the problem is first noticed and when it’s solved in silicon can be referred to as the “Wilson Gap” aphras coined by some Microsoft employees who worked with me and quoted my assessment as “Information consumer appetite/demand will always outpace CPU capability” which I stated in a meeting regarding complex computational transforms.
By doing a simple analysis of this “Wilson Gap” over a series of technologies we can see some very interesting patterns:
*Note: This illustration is based on 2011 estimates
The vertical axis represents the number of years a particular technology was on the market in software-only form before it was introduced in silicon as an ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuits). Based on this data I would like to postulate that companies like Microsoft & Google have direct bearing on these figures, and that in many cases they can significantly reduce the Wilson Gap. But first, let’s review the situation a little further.
How the SW Industry Fights the Wilson Gap
While the flexibility general purpose CPU offers imaginative engineers the ultimate design surface, it likewise has the inherent limitation that code must be reduced to a lowest common denominator, that being the CPU instruction set. Time and again, this limitation has caused a Wilson Gap in what consumers want and what the PC platform is able to inherently deliver.
For Many of Today’s Needs Moore’s Law is too Slow
As the previous graph illustrates, the Wilson Gap was a limiting factor in the potential market for specific technologies, when the CPU was not fast enough for the consumer demand of floating point operations. Likewise, at various times throughout PC history, the CPU has not kept up with demand for:
Digital Signal Processing (DSP)
SSL Processing (encompassing 3DES, RSA, AES)
Windows Media Encoding/Decoding
XML Parsing and Canonicalization
ASICs help reduce the Wilson Gap
When Moore’s Law is too slow we traditionally rely on ASICs to fill the Wilson Gap. In all of the examples above (Math Coprocessor, DSP, 3D, 3DES, RSA, MPG, etc…) we now have fairly low-cost ASICs that can solve the performance issue. Total time to solution and time to money are far too long for current industry economic conditions. These (ASIC) processors will typically accelerate a task, off-load a task or perform some combination of the two. But for the remainder of this paper we’ll use the term “accelerate” to include acceleration that encompasses CPU off-loading.
The Downside to ASIC Solutions
Unfortunately ASICs are inherently slow to market and are a very risky business proposition. For example, the typical ASIC takes 8 to 12 months to design, engineer and manufacture. Thus their target technologies must be under extremely high market demand before companies will make the bet and begin the technology development and manufacturing process. As a result, ASICs will always be well behind the curve of information consumer requirements served by cutting edge software.
Another difficulty faced in this market is that ASIC or Silicon Gate development is very complex, requiring knowledge of VHDL or Verilog. The efficient engineering of silicon gate-oriented solutions requires precision in defining the problem space and architecting the hardware solution. Both of these precise processes take a long time.
FPGAs further reduce the Wilson Gap
A newer approach to reducing the Wilson Gap that is gaining popularity is the use of Field Programmable Gate Arrays (or FPGAs). FPGAs provide an interim solution between ASICs and software running on a general purpose CPU. They allow developers to realign the silicon gates on a chip and achieve performance benefits on par with ASICs, while at the same time allowing the chip to be reconfigured with updated code or a completely different algorithm. Modern development tools are also coming on line that reduce the complexity of programming these chips by adding parallel extensions to the C language, and then compiling C code directly to Gate patterns. One of the most popular examples of this is Handel-C (out of Cambridge).
The Downside to FPGA Solutions
Typically FPGAs are 50% to 70% of the speed of an identical ASIC solution. However, FPGAs are more typically geared to parallelize algorithms and are configurable so as to received updates, and leverage a shorter development cycle (http://www.xilinx.com/products/virtex/asic/methodology.htm). These factors combine to extend the lifespan of a given FPGA-based solution further than an ASIC solution.
A Repeating Pattern
Looking at the market for hardware accelerators over the past 20 years we see a repeating pattern of:
First implemented on the general purpose CPU
Migrated to ASIC/DSP once the market is proven
Next the technology typically takes one of two paths:
The ASIC takes on a life of its own and continues to flourish (such as 3D graphics) outside of the CPU (or embedded back down on the standard motherboard)
The ASIC becomes obsolete as Moore’s Law brings the general purpose CPU up to par with the accelerator by the new including instructions required.
Now let’s examine two well known examples in the Windows space where the Wilson Gap has been clearly identified and hardware vendors are in the development cycle of building ASIC solutions to accelerate our bottlenecks.
Current Wilson Gaps
Our first example is in Windows Media 9 Decoding; ASIC hardware is on its way thanks to companies such as ATI, NVIDIA and others. This will allow the playback of HD-resolution content such as the new Terminator 2 WM9 DVD on slower performance systems. Another example here is in TCP Offload Engines (TOE); which have recently arrived on the scene. Due to the extensibility of both the Windows’ Media and Networking stacks, both of these technologies are fairly straightforward to implement.
Upcoming Wilson Gaps – Our Challenge
However, moving forward the industry faces other technologies which don’t have extensibility points for offloading or acceleration. This lack of extensibility has lead to duplication of effort across various product teams, but not duplication in a competitive sense (which is usually good), but more of a symbiotic duplication of effort, increasing the cost of maintenance and security.
My Conclusion on Si Architecture Trends and thier ecosystem impact
Today’s Si companies must track the key trends in Si technology development, assembly test, Nanotechnology, Cooling, Emerging Research, Virtualization, acceleration and Si Complex Architectures to help drive their product teams in close collaboration with other Si vendors to keep the enterprise in a thought leadership position contemporary with the Silicon Industry along with consumer demands.
This blog is intended to document key technology trends and issues I feel will have a major impact betwen now and 2035. The following areas will be covered: