Is Microsoft Turning Away From Commodity Servers?

This week’s news of a chip designer leaving Sun to work for Microsoft could be a sign that the Redmond giant is trying to build a closer relationship between its software and others’ hardware as a way to boost performance of applications and use the underlying chips more efficiently. It may be trying to optimize its software for a growing (but still small) number of users trying specialized servers in a bid to boost performance while saving energy.

The issue of getting software performance to scale linearly with the addition of more cores has become a vexing problem. Plus, as data center operators look for better application performance without expending as many watts, they are experimenting with different kinds of processors that may be better-suited to a particular task, such as using graphics processors for Monte Carlo simulations. This means that, on these specialized servers, in addition to a program running on multiple cores, it may also run on heterogeneous architectures. So the next step in this quest for better chip utilization and application performance could be optimizing software to run on specific types of hardware. Other options are better compilers or finding easier targets for efficiency gains in the data center.

It’s a problem that is receiving increasing attention in the computing world, especially as energy efficiency becomes more of an issue. So when the New York Times reported earlier this week that Mark Tremblay, a┬áSun fellow and chief technology officer for Microelectronics, left to work for Microsoft, it appeared that Microsoft was adding a silicon viewpoint as it explored how to boost performance of its software on the underlying hardware.

Microsoft has been tackling these issues with its investment into university research into multicore programming; it’s been conducting its own research into energy efficiency as well. Tremblay is working in Microsoft’s Strategic Software/Silicon Architectures group, which focuses on making Microsoft’s software work better on various types of hardware. Microsoft hasn’t returned my email for comment, but given’s Sun’s focus on multicore chip design, Tremblay will at least be helping Microsoft build better software for multicore chips.


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