Computing experts at
"We think that by combining capabilities in microelectronics and computer architecture, Sandia can help initiate the jump to the next technology curve sooner and with less risk," said
For decades, the computer industry operated under Moore's Law, named for
The plateauing of Moore's Law is driving up energy costs for modern scientific computers to the point that, if current trends hold, more powerful future supercomputers would become impractical due to enormous energy consumption.
Solving that conundrum will require new computer architecture that reduces energy costs, which are principally associated with moving data, Leland said. Eventually, computing also will need new technology that uses less energy at the transistor device-level, he added.
Sandia experts expect multiple computing device-level technologies in the future, rather than one dominant architecture. About a dozen possible next-generation candidates exist, including tunnel FETs (field effect transistors, in which the output current is controlled by a variable electric field), carbon nanotubes, superconductors and fundamentally new approaches, such as quantum computing and brain-inspired computing.
Sandia's facilities will play key role in researching future computing technology
Sandia is well positioned to work on future computing technology due to its broad and long history in supercomputers, from architecture to algorithms to applications. Leland said Sandia can play a key role because of that far-reaching background and two key facilities: the Microsystems and Engineering Sciences Applications (MESA) complex, which performs multidisciplinary microsystems research and development and fabricates chips to test ideas; and the
No one is sure what tomorrow's high performance computers will look like. "We have some ideas, of course, and we have different camps of opinion about what it might look like, but we're really right in the midst of figuring that out," Leland said.
What ultimately prevails might well be something not yet invented, Leland said.
"That's the first challenge, to figure out what the new device technology is, then work through what the implications of that are, what sort of computer architecture is required to assemble that device into components and subsystems and systems," he said.
New technology must be broadly adopted to drive improvements
Sandia needs both capability computing, which means finer resolution and more accuracy, and capacity computing, or running many different jobs simultaneously.
"So what does efficiency buy you? It allows you to have a bigger computer or more computers with the same amount of operating expense -- paying your power bill," said Advanced Device Technologies department manager
Whatever technology comes next must be broadly adopted so it will drive continual improvements, similar to the way the 1947 invention of the transistor transformed society. It's not enough to have a device that's fast; it has to be something that can be built into a complete computer system, Aidun said.
Thus, new technology must have commercial uses. "There will have to be some industrial base that supports it and produces it and that can be used to assemble a large number of these into a system that can be deployed for national security," Leland said. "What we'd really like to do is figure out how to advance the state of the art for national security in a way that is more broadly deployable across society."
The computer industry is exploring technologies that in essence are drop-in replacements for transistors with improved characteristics: different designs such as the fin FET, a 3-D rather than a flat configuration on a computer chip, Aidun said. While the design would be moderately disruptive for industry, it's still compatible with standard silicon fab technology and opens the potential for generations of ever-smaller fin FETs on a chip, he said.
While industry views a beyond-transistor technology as something far off, Sandia's national security interests anticipate bigger changes will be needed sooner than industry would develop them on its own, Aidun said. He estimated Sandia could have a prototype new technology within a decade.
Identifying best computer designs can help accelerate innovation
To accelerate the process, Sandia wants to identify computer designs that could take advantage of new device technologies and demonstrate key components or steps in fabrication that would lower the risk for industry by demonstrating technological feasibility.
"We'd be doing it with an eye toward helping industry give due attention to national security needs in computing," Aidun said.
The numerical capability developed in computers in
Improving mobile computing could allow much more efficient and rapid data processing aboard satellites, so less data would need to be sent to Earth for processing.
"The mobility we see in cell phones and tablets is the closest match for the mobility needs of UAVs and satellites," DeBenedictis said. "The energy and time required to transmit data to the ground, process it there and send the answer back is a bottleneck, and it can be more resource-intensive than just computing on the device."
He also suggested turning more programming over to cognitive computers to help programmers manage ever-faster computers. "While computers have gotten millions of times faster, programmers and analysts are pretty much as efficient as they've always been," he said.
Cognitive computing can play role in pattern recognition
Cognitive computers might be able to do more to recognize patterns in satellite imagery, for example. People would still make the judgments, but computers would help by recognizing some lower-level patterns, he said. Up to now, programmers have created ways for computers to recognize images; computers didn't learn on their own. A cognitive computer, however, would learn to identify patterns, DeBenedictis said.
"A computer can learn to recognize images pretty well. Humans assisted by a computer recognizing images could improve the ability significantly," he said.
Researchers also must determine what hardware and software changes are needed so new devices are both possible to manufacture and practical to operate. "You have to design over all those different considerations," Leland said. "That's what makes this a particularly challenging problem."
Today's computer systems rely on huge, longstanding investments in massive amounts of software.
"So we are strongly motivated to develop computers that will run old software that was optimized for traditional computer architectures that are not used today," DeBenedictis said. "To break out of that, we have to find different architectures that are more energy efficient at running old code and are more easily programmed for new code, or architectures that can learn some behaviors that once required programming."
Since the software of today won't unleash the full capabilities of the hardware of tomorrow, he expects computers in about a decade that can run both today's software and new software. New software "would learn or would process information in fundamentally different ways, and become the most powerful aspect of the computer over time," he said.
TNS 30FurigayJof-140528-4748217 30FurigayJof
Most Popular Stories
- Homeowners More Satisfied With Mortgage Servicers
- Discounts Help U.S. Auto Sales Sizzle in July
- Russia, Ukraine Now Face Off Over Football Clubs
- Colorado Issuing Immigrant Driver's Licenses
- Recruiting and Keeping the Perfect Employee
- MassMutual Teams Up With ALPFA
- Chrysler U.S. Sales in July Hit 9-Year High
- Fiat Looks Abroad After Chrysler Merger Vote
- Dow Wipes Out Gains for the Year: What Happens Now?
- House Shelves Immigration Bill, Goes on Vacation