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Welcome to the era of radical innovation

January 7, 2014 06:45 AM ET

Another emerging technology that may replace or more likely augment microprocessors is quantum computing, something both NASA and the NSA are working on, as are most other major nations.

The end of Moore's Law was a topic of discussion at the recent SC13 supercomputing conference. Experts see instability and much uncertainty ahead now that the technology we rely on today can no longer be expected to improve at a regular, predictable pace.

Marc Snir, director of the Mathematics and Computer Science Division at the Argonne National Laboratory, and a computer science professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told SC13 attendees (see slides) that alternate technologies are not yet ready.

Christopher Willard, chief research officer at Intersect360 Research, said that the era of buying commercial off-the-shelf products to assemble a high-performance system is coming to an end. "The market should then be entering a new phase of experimentation, and computer architecture innovations," he said.

The demise of Moore's Law is already evident in the high-performance computing world.

If Moore's Law continued to hold true, the U.S. would have an exascale system in 2018, instead of the early 2020s, as now predicted.

A 1 gigaflop system was developed in 1988 and nine years later work was completed on a 1 teraflop system. In 2008, work on a 1 petaflop system was finished. A petaflop is a thousand teraflops, or one quadrillion floating-point operations per second.

The end of Moore's Law isn't as urgent of a concern for the device makers at CES as it is for supercomputing researchers.

But there is a shift in themes at CES -- the focus has moved away from smaller, faster, better gadgets to the Internet of Things. The underlying message is: True computing power is measured by the ability of a mobile platform to control and track a multitude of physical and virtual objects over a network. But that message might work for just so long.

The problem that high-performance computing faces in reaching exascale will also eventually confront the device makers at CES, which was launched in 1967, two years after Gordon Moore delivered the paper outlining Moore's Law.

The problem the device makers at CES face is that Moore's Law ends for everyone.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at Twitter@DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed Thibodeau RSS. His email address is

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