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Is Parallel Computing a Rocket Science or Esoteric? Part 1

My association with the field of High Performance Computing has been intriguing and a journey of revelations where in I have tried to understand the intricacies of a subject that has been long under the hoods. It just seems so recent that it has been rewarded with its much awaited 'Glory'.

I make here a humble attempt to bring to you my understanding of this so called "Dark Science" considered by many only a esoteric craft. I bring to you a 3 part series describing "The past, present and future of Parallel Computing through the eyes and experiences of a commoner"

You pour yourself a cup of hot brewing coffee and descend in a chair sipping on it, while reading your early morning dose of news. A common daily routine for each one of us, so what's so special? We seldom happen to appreciate that the trifling that surrounds us influences our broader picture of life immensely. The coffee with the newspaper was a classic example of multi-tasking or doing things in parallel. And this is exactly what we do in Parallel Computing aka Processing (PC); go about doing or trying to do computing simultaneously.

From ancient ruins dating say a 100BC which gave us some tablets and abacuses capable of doing computation in parallel to the many-core architecture cutting edge parallel computer architectures today, the journey has been intriguing and of a realization. Each milestone reached in this journey involved imbibing something from simple real life to make it a breakthrough in the technology world. For example, Prof. Dave Patterson's Laundry Example; outlining the principles of pipelining in parallel computer architecture. Goes to say is we all know Parallel Processing aka Computing, it's just that we never realized we did.

Though, the IBM 704 with its Principal Architect Gene Amdahl has been regarded as the first commercial breakthrough at creating a machine with floating-point hardware in 1955; Wikipedia tracks back the true origins of Parallel Computing (aka MIMD parallelism) to Federico Luigi, Conte Menabrea and his "Sketch of the Analytic Engine Invented by Charles Babbage" in 1842. This work by Luigi can be regarded as the first treatise describing many aspects of computer architecture and programming.

To be continued...


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