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To Infinity and Beyond

The technology sector may be at its lowest ebb for a generation but progress like politics, shows little respect for economics.

In the same week I read that Sun Microsystems plans to create processors that will increase its blade server throughput by an impressive sounding factor of thirty beyond 2005, I see that Israeli scientists have devised a computer that can perform ‘330 trillion operations per second’, more than 100,000 faster than the quickest Personal Computer with us today shattering Moore’s Law in the process.

While Sun is initiating what it calls "Throughput" in its processors combining chip multithreading to allow a single processor to execute tens of threads simultaneously, in a research lab at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, they have arrived at a new computing paradigm and a radically different view of threading which might sit more comfortably on the set of a Star Trek movie.

What makes this new computer a little ‘different; is that it’s made of jelly, DNA in fact and while the idea has been around for some time – I wrote about it five years ago – it’s taken that long for the blob to sweep past the best that Intel or anyone else can put up against it.

The blade or blob, if you can describe a jelly in such a way, is a programmable molecular computing machine composed of enzymes and DNA molecules rather than silicon processors. The big breakthrough in the research is the harnessing of the single DNA molecule that provides the computer with its input as a fuel source to ‘power’ the device; an enzyme breaks bonds in the DNA double helix, triggering the release of enough energy for the system to be self-sufficient

Last week, The Guinness Book of Records recognized Israel’s DNA computer as "the smallest biological computing device" ever constructed in an area which is likely to transform our understanding of computing as dramatically as the appearance of the first IBM PC twenty years ago.

If like me, you’re having trouble attempting to imagine carrying your intelligent laptop supercomputer around in a refrigerated dish, ten years from now, then I don’t blame you. But think back twenty years and most of us then would have had trouble imagining the wired-world of 2003. Add this kind of news to the imminent arrival of the first Terabyte hard drives, then carrying the world in the palm of your hand becomes much less science fiction and much more of a serious probability before the end of the decade.

Will such machines run “best with Windows”? That’s anyone’s guess but I wonder if the Operating System argument will have become entirely meaningless by then. Will tomorrow’s jellies; I wonder carry an ‘Intel Inside’ logo and what might happen if you leave one out in the Sun?

It’s all too much for me and one really has to wonder how Enterprise IT will cope now were just about done with ‘Fourth Wave’ computing and are starting to picture a future where both processor power and storage appear almost limitless by today’s standards.

One thing you can be sure of though. Software won’t be free, jellies will occasionally ‘crash’ or 'meltdown' and there’ll still be the familiar heated arguments over standards and Open Source computing.


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