HPC Matters is a joint blog consisting of contributors from the Tabor Communications team on their observations and insights into HPC matters.
December 04, 2008
"There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home."
Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977. (source)
I have always been a lover of technology. I was the type of kid who would jockey with the back of the television in an attempt to get HBO in for free, take apart my electronic toys to try to understand how they worked, and spend hours on the Tandy computer at the local municipal library, trying to get it to do my bidding. I taught myself BASIC by trying to enter code snippets from an Apple programmers magazine into that Tandy machine. I love technology.
So why am I so skeptical when I read about the emerging "personal supercomputer?"
Don't take me wrong -- I love the idea of having a supercomputer under/on my desktop. The mainstream-ization (not a word) of the supercomputer is like a dream come true – but now that it's within reach (relatively speaking -- I'm not ready to fork out that kind of money yet), I'm trying to figure out what I -- as an average everyday guy -- would do with it.
We all know what supercomputing means for business and industry. From calculating the ripples on a potato chip for efficient aerodynamic packaging, to automobile safety testing -- you name it -- it seems like there's nothing that the supercomputer can't do when it comes to improving the efficiency of industry. But I'm having a difficult time envisioning how the personal supercomputer will translate into advances for the modern household.
And so do many of you, apparently. When I was at the SC08 conference this last month, I ended up in several conversations with your average conference attendee stopping by the HPCwire booth for a little information and some confabulation. There seemed to be plenty of general excitement about this direction that the industry was taking, but when I asked the question "What do you think you would do with a personal supercomputer?" I was mostly met with blank stares. The general response reminded me of the old (bad) joke:
Q: What do you give a 900 lb. gorilla?
A: Anything it wants!
Most of the answers I received were along the lines of "whatever you want to do with it," which wasn't a lot of help. Nobody seemed to have any specific personal need for the additional processing power -- at least not outside of gaming. Nobody seemed to know what to do -- or for that matter what they could do -- with all that processing power.
I think the situation is clear: the killer app isn't there yet, and may not be for some time. Or, perhaps it's here after all -- perhaps the killer app is gaming, and the idea that these machines are serious business should be dropped, at least for the time being. It makes sense to me that the increasing push toward high-definition video we've seen in the last half-decade will translate into an unquenchable need for higher-definition games, and thus an increasing need for parallelization of processing. In that case, the question is who is going to dip their toes in the water first?
Whatever the answer is, I know what the answer is not: "There is no reason anyone would want a supercomputer in their home."
Somewhere, the Jobs and Wozniak (with respect to the countless other visionaries of the original PC revolution) of a new generation are out there, pulling their ideas together. Godspeed to them (and us)!
Posted by Isaac Lopez - December 03, 2008 @ 9:00 PM, Pacific Standard Time
Isaac Lopez is the Marketing Director for Tabor Communications.
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