Cloud computing and big data analysis will require the development of ever more performant computing systems. Iuliana Radu, program director for beyond CMOS and quantum computing at imec, discusses how these high-performance computers might look like in 2035.
Will we need a ‘supercomputer’ on our desk?
Will we need ever more powerful computer chips in 10-20 years from now? Today, our phones seem perfectly capable of running any app or mobile game, and of streaming video. Our laptops perfectly support us at work or at home. Nevertheless, the answer is: yes – the need for high-performance computing will continue to increase. In 2035, we will still produce massive amounts of data, without deleting any. Think of pictures and videos posted on social media – in whatever form – and the huge amount of data processed by companies such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon. Wearables and ingestibles will continuously monitor our health, and combine the data with our genetic imprint. Add to this the large amount of data generated by emerging IoT applications such as the autonomous cars, the smart buildings and the smart cities. Most of this data will be processed and stored in the cloud. And this can only be sustained through increasingly more performant computing and memory solutions.
Another clear driver relates to big data analysis. Applications such as drugs and materials discovery, weather forecast, or nuclear simulations will continue to demand increasingly more powerful computers to handle their ever-expanding sets of data. Today, these applications run on supercomputers, in which hundreds of thousands of classical processors work in parallel to solve different parts of a single large problem. A drawback of these supercomputers is the gigantic power consumption: for a typical supercomputer, the power consumption can reach 15-20 megawatts.
For both cloud computing and supercomputing, we will need solutions that bring computing to a higher level of performance, and this at the lowest possible energy consumption. At imec, we investigate many avenues and try to provide realistic projections to guide industrial adoption of the proposed solutions.
New drivers for innovation
For more than 50 years, the road towards ever more performant computing has been guided by Moore’s Law, which has become an industry synonym for the continuous reduction in size and cost of the transistor. Every two years, the industry introduced a new technology node with more transistors per chip area, leading to ever more performant logic and memory chips. Cost reduction per transistor was mainly enabled by reduced device footprint. Nowadays, new technology nodes follow less frequently. As it is increasingly more difficult to reduce price per transistor with simple area scaling, new technology drivers are becoming more prominent. The ability to deliver a certain logic (or memory) function for the lowest amount of power is increasing in importance. The need for increased performance and reduced power consumption are becoming the main drivers for innovation.