Computer architects have been talking about machines with true parallel architectures for years, but the programmers in the trenches are just starting to get the tools that make it possible.
The parallelism is appearing in two prominent areas: multinode databases and Hadoop jobs. Some mix the two.
Most NoSQL data stores offer to help spread the workload over multiple machines. Some offer automatic sharding, which splits the data set into pieces, synchronizes the machines that host a given piece, and directs queries to the right machines as necessary. Some offer duplication or backup, a feature that's a bit older; some do both.
Hadoop is an open source framework that will coordinate a number of machines working on a problem and compile their work into a single answer. The project imitates some of the Map/Reduce framework developed by Google to help synchronize Web crawling efforts, but the project has grown well beyond these roots.
Tools like this make it easier than ever to toss more than one machine at a problem. The infrastructure is now solid enough that the enterprise architects can rely on deploying racks of machines with only a bit of hand-holding and fussing.
Was it only a few years ago that the CPU manufacturers created the chips that fetched the most money? Those days are fading fast as the graphics processors are now the most lustworthy. It's easy to find kids who will spend $300 on their entire computer and operating system, then $600 on a new video card to really make it scream.
The gamers aren't alone in their obsession with video cards. Scientists who need high-powered computation are reprogramming GPUs to analyze protein folding or guess the secrets of the smallest particles. Nvidia runs conferences for nongamers using the devices, and they're selling video cards by the palletload to scientists who want to build supercomputers. Oak Ridge National Laboratory, for instance, plans to put 18,000 Tesla GPUs from Nvidia into one room so that they can call it the fastest supercomputer. They're presumably going to build elaborate models for the Department of Energy, not to brag about the frame rate they get while playing Doom.
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