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April 17, 2012

Intel MIC for Business Applications?

Robert Gelber

Intel’s MIC processor has faced some criticism about the narrow audience the architecture is aimed at, namely users of high performance computing. A recent development may blunt some of those critiques, as the company’s manycore processors may find themselves powering generic business applications.

A Businesscloud9 article points to Intel’s European Software Conference in Istanbul, in which much of the conversation centered on parallel processing. Part of the discussion there had one Intel exec, Levent Akyill, Manager of the Technical Consulting Team with the company’s Software and Services Group, talking about commercial applications for its upcoming MIC product, Knights Corner.

A direct answer to NVIDIA’s Tesla, Intel makes claim that the MIC chip is easier to program than GPUs. Although that’s debatable, Intel’s clout in the enterprise is not. The company has deep partnerships with OEMs and ISVs that develop the server hardware and parallel software, respectively, for a range of enterprise and web-based businesses.

Since more and more of those applications are being parallelized, Intel is thinking it might entice some of those potential customers to consider a MIC processor for their workloads.  The article elaborates on this a bit:

[T]he languages that are best suited to parallel processing, such as C++ and C#, are now finding a strong foothold in the world of business – and this is likely to grow as Cloud delivered services become more widespread and prominent. Both are, for example, already widely used in the development of web-based applications.

Apparently there was also some discussion at the conference about using the MIC as a stand-alone processor rather than a coprocessor attached to a CPU host. The idea would be to utilize one of its cores as the host driver, with the other cores devoted to computation.

Takeaway

Although the MIC was purpose-built for HPC, its manycore design could be utilized in more generic applications with a propensity to parallelize. Whether this is truly practical or not remains to be seen. Certainly, if Intel can find additional non-HPC markets for these chips, the business case for its manycore product line would be much stronger.

Full story at Businesscloud9