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Industry in brief
photo credit: IBM
An IBM engineer holds a 300 mm POWER7 processor wafer next to a wafer test tool

Operators unite to deliver mobile applications to over 3 billion users

Leading telecommunication operators have formed the “Wholesale Applications Community” to build an open platform that delivers applications to all mobile phone users, according to an announcement made at the GSMA World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, on 15 February 2010.

América Móvil, AT&T, Bharti Airtel, China Mobile, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, KT, mobilkom austria group, MTN Group, NTT DoCoMo, Orange, Orascom Telecom, Softbank Mobile, Telecom Italia, Telefónica, Telenor Group, TeliaSonera, SingTel, SK Telecom, Sprint, Verizon Wireless, VimpelCom, Vodafone and Wind will create a new, open ecosystem to spur the development and distribution of mobile and Internet applications that can be used regardless of device, operating system or operator. Together, the 24 firms have over 3 billion customers worldwide. The new alliance is also backed by GSMA and three of the world's largest device manufacturers — LG Electronics, Samsung and Sony Ericsson.

Initially, the alliance plans to use the “JIL” and “OMTP BONDI” requirements, evolving these standards into a common standard within the next 12 months. Ultimately, it expects to work with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) for a common standard, based on a converged solution, to ensure that, in future, developers can create applications that port across mobile device platforms, and between fixed and mobile devices.

New high-power processors from IBM

On 8 February 2010, International Business Machines Corporation (IBM), of the United States, announced a new range of silicon chips called “POWER7” that are designed to manage the most demanding applications, such as real-time analysis of financial markets. IBM says the processors have twice the performance and four times the virtualization capabilities as the previous “POWER6” series, but consume much less energy.

POWER7 chips each have up to eight processing cores and can manage millions of transactions in real time and analyse the associated volumes of data. They could be used in a smart electricity grid, for instance, which requires frequent monitoring of how customers are using power, and transmission of that data back to consumers.

According to IBM, a technology known as “intelligent energy” allows users to switch on or off various parts of a system, or to dynamically increase or decrease processor clock speeds — on a single server or across a pool of multiple servers. In addition, costs are reduced through the virtualization feature, which supports 1000 virtual servers or “partitions” on a single system. This enables one big server to do the work of up to a thousand smaller servers. The company has also unveiled four new models of Unix servers based on the POWER7 processor.

Intel announces “single-chip cloud computer”

Also on 8 February, Intel Corporation of the United States introduced its four-core “Itanium 9300” processor, which it says delivers more than double the performance of its predecessor, boosts scalability and adds reliability features.

The trend towards multi-core processors — and technologies to get the most work out of them at the lowest energy cost — was also illustrated in an earlier announcement by Intel. Its research laboratories demonstrated an experimental version of a new microchip that packs 48 separate processing cores onto what they call a “single-chip cloud computer” or SCC. It is said to offer about 10 to 20 times the processing power of the most popular processors produced by the company today.

The prototype was announced in December 2009 by Intel Labs, with technical details of its architecture presented on 8 February 2010 at the International Solid State Circuits Conference, held in San Francisco. Intel researchers say that their long-term goal is to add scaling features to computers in future that will spur the development of entirely new software applications and ways for people to interact with machines. At present, a typical desktop computer has four processing cores; the new chip has twelve times as many cores that are fully programmable.

Future laptops with processing capability of this magnitude could, for example, have human-like “vision”, or track motion as it happens and with a high degree of accuracy. This could eliminate the need for keyboards to communicate with computers, or joysticks for gaming, while an attached three-dimensional camera could put onto the screen a perfect mirror image of the user.

An important feature is that the chip contains within it a high-speed network for sharing information. Data can be transferred between a “cloud” of 48 “computers” (or cores) across distances of millimetres rather than the metres that might separate computers in normal datacentres, and applications can pass information directly between cooperating cores in a few microseconds. In addition, cores can be turned on and off, or change their performance levels, thus continuously adapting to use the minimum energy needed at a given moment.

Such chips could lead to datacentres of the future that are very much more energy-efficient than today, saving significant resources for companies and greenhouse-gas emissions for the planet as a whole.


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