Another Computer Legend Passes Into the History Books

By Michael Feldman

October 13, 2011

Computer scientist Dennis Ritchie, who drove the design of the C programming language and the UNIX operating system, died over the weekend at the age of 70. While not a household name, Ritchie, along with cohorts Ken Thompson and Brian Kernighan, helped create the foundation for much of modern computing.

Ritchie is perhaps best known as the co-author of the book, The C Programming Language, which became the bible to C programmers ever since its publication in 1978. Kernighan, who co-authored the book, attributed Ritchie with the design of the language though.

While many criticized the admittedly dangerous features of C (dangling pointers, unbounded array copies, promiscuous data type casting, and so on), it became popular in part because it was a no-holds-barred type of language, and allowed the programmer free reign to pursue all sorts of mischief — both good and bad. That reflected the US software culture of the times.

While UNIX and (especially) C are still prevalent in the current computing landscape, they are not nearly as dominant as they were in the last two decades of the 20th century. But the next generation of languages and operating systems, C++ and Linux in particular, have direct lineage back to those foundational technologies.

Even other languages, whether they resemble C syntax or not, usually come with C bindings so they can tap into the rich set libraries developed over the last three decades. Today, it’s hard to imagine a software stack in the computing industry without C and UNIX and the technologies they spawned.

Both C and UNIX also benefitted from being born at the right time. It was in the late 70s and early 80s that marked the rise of the enterprise server build-out (not to mention the PC market). Importantly, these technologies enabled an open systems model for the industry. The UNIX OS was the first major open source software project, which led to its adoption at universities and research centers.

Ritchie regarded C and UNIX as historical accidents though. From his perspective, the world was just ready to embrace these technologies because of their ease of distribution and openness. “Somehow both hit sweet spots,” he said, in an interview with ITworld back in 2000. “The longevity is a bit remarkable.”

The open nature of the software enabled companies like IBM, HP, Sun Microsystems, and other OEMs to build platforms in which applications could be compiled with C and run on various UNIX OS flavors (HP-UX, IBM AIX, Sun Solaris) more or less unmodified. I say more or less because in truth, these commercial UNIX variants parted ways that often made it difficult to pass applications freely from one vendor’s system to another. With the emergence of Linux, UNIX’s open source offspring, the technology became more standardized, and in the process, even more widely disseminated.

For all of Ritchie’s influence on the industry, he never really became a pop icon in the manner of Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. Unlike Jobs and Gates, who led their respective companies to fame and fortune, Ritchie was the archetype computer scientist — the guy that came up with all the great ideas, upon which others built great empires.

To programmers of his time though, he was a hero. A Harvard grad, with majors in physics and applied math, Ritchie was one of the best and the brightest of the new breed of computer geeks making their way into the world of the late 60s. It was in 1969, while working at AT&T, that he, along with fellow colleagues Ken Thompson, Brian Kernighan, Douglas McIlroy, and Joe Ossana developed the UNIX operating system.

In 1983 he received the Turing Award. Five years later, he was elected into the National Academy of Engineering for the development the C language and for co-developing UNIX. He was subsequently awarded the National Medal of Technology in 1998. In January of 2011, Ritchie, along with Ken Thompson, were awarded the Japan Prize for Information and Communications for their UNIX work.

Despite these accolades, Ritchie remained humble. For would-be language inventors he had this advice:

“Don’t have any expectations that anyone will use it, unless you hook up with some sort of organization in a position to push it hard. It’s a lottery, and some can buy a lot of the tickets. There are plenty of beautiful languages (more beautiful than C) that didn’t catch on. But someone does win the lottery, and doing a language at least teaches you something.”

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

CMU’s Latest “Card Shark” – Libratus – is Beating the Poker Pros (Again)

January 20, 2017

It’s starting to look like Carnegie Mellon University has a gambling problem – can’t stay away from the poker table. Read more…

By John Russell

IDG to Be Bought by Chinese Investors; IDC to Spin Out HPC Group

January 19, 2017

US-based publishing and investment firm International Data Group, Inc. (IDG) will be acquired by a pair of Chinese investors, China Oceanwide Holdings Group Co., Ltd. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Weekly Twitter Roundup (Jan. 19, 2017)

January 19, 2017

Here at HPCwire, we aim to keep the HPC community apprised of the most relevant and interesting news items that get tweeted throughout the week. Read more…

By Thomas Ayres

France’s CEA and Japan’s RIKEN to Partner on ARM and Exascale

January 19, 2017

France’s CEA and Japan’s RIKEN institute announced a multi-faceted five-year collaboration to advance HPC generally and prepare for exascale computing. Among the particulars are efforts to: build out the ARM ecosystem; work on code development and code sharing on the existing and future platforms; share expertise in specific application areas (material and seismic sciences for example); improve techniques for using numerical simulation with big data; and expand HPC workforce training. It seems to be a very full agenda. Read more…

By Nishi Katsuya and John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Remote Visualization: An Integral Technology for Upstream Oil & Gas

As the exploration and production (E&P) of natural resources evolves into an even more complex and vital task, visualization technology has become integral for the upstream oil and gas industry. Read more…

ARM Waving: Attention, Deployments, and Development

January 18, 2017

It’s been a heady two weeks for the ARM HPC advocacy camp. At this week’s Mont-Blanc Project meeting held at the Barcelona Supercomputer Center, Cray announced plans to build an ARM-based supercomputer in the U.K. while Mont-Blanc selected Cavium’s ThunderX2 ARM chip for its third phase of development. Last week, France’s CEA and Japan’s Riken announced a deep collaboration aimed largely at fostering the ARM ecosystem. This activity follows a busy 2016 when SoftBank acquired ARM, OpenHPC announced ARM support, ARM released its SVE spec, Fujistu chose ARM for the post K machine, and ARM acquired HPC tool provider Allinea in December. Read more…

By John Russell

Women Coders from Russia, Italy, and Poland Top Study

January 17, 2017

According to a study posted on HackerRank today the best women coders as judged by performance on HackerRank challenges come from Russia, Italy, and Poland. Read more…

By John Russell

Spurred by Global Ambitions, Inspur in Joint HPC Deal with DDN

January 17, 2017

Inspur, the fast-growth cloud computing and server vendor from China that has several systems on the current Top500 list, and DDN, a leader in high-end storage, have announced a joint sales and marketing agreement to produce solutions based on DDN storage platforms integrated with servers, networking, software and services from Inspur. Read more…

By Doug Black

Weekly Twitter Roundup (Jan. 12, 2017)

January 12, 2017

Here at HPCwire, we aim to keep the HPC community apprised of the most relevant and interesting news items that get tweeted throughout the week. Read more…

By Thomas Ayres

IDG to Be Bought by Chinese Investors; IDC to Spin Out HPC Group

January 19, 2017

US-based publishing and investment firm International Data Group, Inc. (IDG) will be acquired by a pair of Chinese investors, China Oceanwide Holdings Group Co., Ltd. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

France’s CEA and Japan’s RIKEN to Partner on ARM and Exascale

January 19, 2017

France’s CEA and Japan’s RIKEN institute announced a multi-faceted five-year collaboration to advance HPC generally and prepare for exascale computing. Among the particulars are efforts to: build out the ARM ecosystem; work on code development and code sharing on the existing and future platforms; share expertise in specific application areas (material and seismic sciences for example); improve techniques for using numerical simulation with big data; and expand HPC workforce training. It seems to be a very full agenda. Read more…

By Nishi Katsuya and John Russell

ARM Waving: Attention, Deployments, and Development

January 18, 2017

It’s been a heady two weeks for the ARM HPC advocacy camp. At this week’s Mont-Blanc Project meeting held at the Barcelona Supercomputer Center, Cray announced plans to build an ARM-based supercomputer in the U.K. while Mont-Blanc selected Cavium’s ThunderX2 ARM chip for its third phase of development. Last week, France’s CEA and Japan’s Riken announced a deep collaboration aimed largely at fostering the ARM ecosystem. This activity follows a busy 2016 when SoftBank acquired ARM, OpenHPC announced ARM support, ARM released its SVE spec, Fujistu chose ARM for the post K machine, and ARM acquired HPC tool provider Allinea in December. Read more…

By John Russell

Spurred by Global Ambitions, Inspur in Joint HPC Deal with DDN

January 17, 2017

Inspur, the fast-growth cloud computing and server vendor from China that has several systems on the current Top500 list, and DDN, a leader in high-end storage, have announced a joint sales and marketing agreement to produce solutions based on DDN storage platforms integrated with servers, networking, software and services from Inspur. Read more…

By Doug Black

For IBM/OpenPOWER: Success in 2017 = (Volume) Sales

January 11, 2017

To a large degree IBM and the OpenPOWER Foundation have done what they said they would – assembling a substantial and growing ecosystem and bringing Power-based products to market, all in about three years. Read more…

By John Russell

UberCloud Cites Progress in HPC Cloud Computing

January 10, 2017

200 HPC cloud experiments, 80 case studies, and a ton of hands-on experience gained, that’s the harvest of four years of UberCloud HPC Experiments. Read more…

By Wolfgang Gentzsch and Burak Yenier

A Conversation with Women in HPC Director Toni Collis

January 6, 2017

In this SC16 video interview, HPCwire Managing Editor Tiffany Trader sits down with Toni Collis, the director and founder of the Women in HPC (WHPC) network, to discuss the strides made since the organization’s debut in 2014. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

BioTeam’s Berman Charts 2017 HPC Trends in Life Sciences

January 4, 2017

Twenty years ago high performance computing was nearly absent from life sciences. Today it’s used throughout life sciences and biomedical research. Genomics and the data deluge from modern lab instruments are the main drivers, but so is the longer-term desire to perform predictive simulation in support of Precision Medicine (PM). There’s even a specialized life sciences supercomputer, ‘Anton’ from D.E. Shaw Research, and the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center is standing up its second Anton 2 and actively soliciting project proposals. There’s a lot going on. Read more…

By John Russell

AWS Beats Azure to K80 General Availability

September 30, 2016

Amazon Web Services has seeded its cloud with Nvidia Tesla K80 GPUs to meet the growing demand for accelerated computing across an increasingly-diverse range of workloads. The P2 instance family is a welcome addition for compute- and data-focused users who were growing frustrated with the performance limitations of Amazon's G2 instances, which are backed by three-year-old Nvidia GRID K520 graphics cards. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

US, China Vie for Supercomputing Supremacy

November 14, 2016

The 48th edition of the TOP500 list is fresh off the presses and while there is no new number one system, as previously teased by China, there are a number of notable entrants from the US and around the world and significant trends to report on. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

For IBM/OpenPOWER: Success in 2017 = (Volume) Sales

January 11, 2017

To a large degree IBM and the OpenPOWER Foundation have done what they said they would – assembling a substantial and growing ecosystem and bringing Power-based products to market, all in about three years. Read more…

By John Russell

Vectors: How the Old Became New Again in Supercomputing

September 26, 2016

Vector instructions, once a powerful performance innovation of supercomputing in the 1970s and 1980s became an obsolete technology in the 1990s. But like the mythical phoenix bird, vector instructions have arisen from the ashes. Here is the history of a technology that went from new to old then back to new. Read more…

By Lynd Stringer

Container App ‘Singularity’ Eases Scientific Computing

October 20, 2016

HPC container platform Singularity is just six months out from its 1.0 release but already is making inroads across the HPC research landscape. It's in use at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), where Singularity founder Gregory Kurtzer has worked in the High Performance Computing Services (HPCS) group for 16 years. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Dell EMC Engineers Strategy to Democratize HPC

September 29, 2016

The freshly minted Dell EMC division of Dell Technologies is on a mission to take HPC mainstream with a strategy that hinges on engineered solutions, beginning with a focus on three industry verticals: manufacturing, research and life sciences. "Unlike traditional HPC where everybody bought parts, assembled parts and ran the workloads and did iterative engineering, we want folks to focus on time to innovation and let us worry about the infrastructure," said Jim Ganthier, senior vice president, validated solutions organization at Dell EMC Converged Platforms Solution Division. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Enlisting Deep Learning in the War on Cancer

December 7, 2016

Sometime in Q2 2017 the first ‘results’ of the Joint Design of Advanced Computing Solutions for Cancer (JDACS4C) will become publicly available according to Rick Stevens. He leads one of three JDACS4C pilot projects pressing deep learning (DL) into service in the War on Cancer. Read more…

By John Russell

Lighting up Aurora: Behind the Scenes at the Creation of the DOE’s Upcoming 200 Petaflops Supercomputer

December 1, 2016

In April 2015, U.S. Department of Energy Undersecretary Franklin Orr announced that Intel would be the prime contractor for Aurora: Read more…

By Jan Rowell

Leading Solution Providers

D-Wave SC16 Update: What’s Bo Ewald Saying These Days

November 18, 2016

Tucked in a back section of the SC16 exhibit hall, quantum computing pioneer D-Wave has been talking up its new 2000-qubit processor announced in September. Forget for a moment the criticism sometimes aimed at D-Wave. This small Canadian company has sold several machines including, for example, ones to Lockheed and NASA, and has worked with Google on mapping machine learning problems to quantum computing. In July Los Alamos National Laboratory took possession of a 1000-quibit D-Wave 2X system that LANL ordered a year ago around the time of SC15. Read more…

By John Russell

CPU Benchmarking: Haswell Versus POWER8

June 2, 2015

With OpenPOWER activity ramping up and IBM’s prominent role in the upcoming DOE machines Summit and Sierra, it’s a good time to look at how the IBM POWER CPU stacks up against the x86 Xeon Haswell CPU from Intel. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Sees Bright Future for AI Supercomputing

November 23, 2016

Graphics chipmaker Nvidia made a strong showing at SC16 in Salt Lake City last week. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Beyond von Neumann, Neuromorphic Computing Steadily Advances

March 21, 2016

Neuromorphic computing – brain inspired computing – has long been a tantalizing goal. The human brain does with around 20 watts what supercomputers do with megawatts. And power consumption isn’t the only difference. Fundamentally, brains ‘think differently’ than the von Neumann architecture-based computers. While neuromorphic computing progress has been intriguing, it has still not proven very practical. Read more…

By John Russell

The Exascale Computing Project Awards $39.8M to 22 Projects

September 7, 2016

The Department of Energy’s Exascale Computing Project (ECP) hit an important milestone today with the announcement of its first round of funding, moving the nation closer to its goal of reaching capable exascale computing by 2023. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

BioTeam’s Berman Charts 2017 HPC Trends in Life Sciences

January 4, 2017

Twenty years ago high performance computing was nearly absent from life sciences. Today it’s used throughout life sciences and biomedical research. Genomics and the data deluge from modern lab instruments are the main drivers, but so is the longer-term desire to perform predictive simulation in support of Precision Medicine (PM). There’s even a specialized life sciences supercomputer, ‘Anton’ from D.E. Shaw Research, and the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center is standing up its second Anton 2 and actively soliciting project proposals. There’s a lot going on. Read more…

By John Russell

Dell Knights Landing Machine Sets New STAC Records

November 2, 2016

The Securities Technology Analysis Center, commonly known as STAC, has released a new report characterizing the performance of the Knight Landing-based Dell PowerEdge C6320p server on the STAC-A2 benchmarking suite, widely used by the financial services industry to test and evaluate computing platforms. The Dell machine has set new records for both the baseline Greeks benchmark and the large Greeks benchmark. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

What Knights Landing Is Not

June 18, 2016

As we get ready to launch the newest member of the Intel Xeon Phi family, code named Knights Landing, it is natural that there be some questions and potentially some confusion. Read more…

By James Reinders, Intel

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This