Supercomputing expert Dan Reed, who saw the birth of the Web browser at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is joining Microsoft Research as director of scalable and multi-core computing.
This serious college basketball fan is tearing himself away from the hoops heartland surrounding North Carolina's Research Triangle to lead Microsoft's efforts in multi-core technology and next-generation data centres. "I watched Mosaic come up out of the ground, and I watched my students go off to start-ups, and I promised myself that if the surf was up again that I was going to grab my board and get in the water," Reed told Network World's John Fontana, during a chat about Reed's move from academia and what he says could be a coming revolution that rivals the development of the Web.
Q: What drew you to Microsoft? A: There are very few places in the world that have the combination of world-class research capability and the market influence and the resources to be game-changing players in a period where there is this much ferment with multi-core and large data centres.
Q: The other more broad question is, "Why industry after having spent a life in academia?" A: And the answer is that the problems of this ilk [multi-core, large data centres], the opportunities to profoundly influence their decision, is actually much larger right now in the industry space than it is in the academic space.
Q: What are the unique challenges multi-core computing presents to a software development company such as Microsoft? A: We have hit the power and clock-frequency wall, so large-scale multi-core is coming. To continue to ride the performance advantages from that parallelism on chips, we have to rethink how we develop software. How we develop code that runs in parallel and uses those processors has implications for a whole new set of developments but also for the existing software base. So for a software company like Microsoft, it is about developing new applications that take advantage of that parallelism, because there is a whole new set of application opportunities.
Q: What's your plan of attack? A: I will be doing two things. My position is in MSR, and some of the issues associated with that are research-related. But many of them are deeply product-related. So I will not only be engaging people on the research side, but I will also be working with the product groups and also working with Microsoft's external partners, like chip vendors, because this is not just a software issue; it is a hardware issue as well.
So for a set of ongoing projects that I expect to follow, Microsoft has several activities under way. If you saw recently, the plan is to start shifting the tool set to something called F#, the functional language based on the common runtime system, which is one of the early products to allow us to exploit the on-chip parallelism.
There are other things like transactional memory. One of the things that is true about this problem is there isn't a single silver bullet.