UC Berkeley News
Press Release

UC Berkeley Press Release

 David Patterson
David Patterson (Peg Skorpinski photo)

Intel and Microsoft launch parallel computing research center at UC Berkeley

– The University of California, Berkeley, is partnering with Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp. to accelerate developments in parallel computing and advance the powerful benefits of multi-core processing to mainstream consumer and business computers.

Microsoft and Intel announced today (Tuesday, March 18) the creation of two Universal Parallel Computing Research Centers (UPCRC), the first at UC Berkeley and another at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The two centers comprise what is considered the nation's first joint industry and university research alliance of this magnitude that is focused on mainstream parallel computing.

"This is a once-in-a-career opportunity to recast the foundations of information technology and influence the entire IT industry for decades to come," said David Patterson, UC Berkeley professor of computer sciences and a pioneering expert in computer architecture. "We are excited and proud to be a part of this ambitious effort."

The funding for UC Berkeley's UPCRC, which Patterson directs, forms the foundation for the campus's Parallel Computing Laboratory, or Par Lab, a multidisciplinary research project exploring the future of parallel processing. Patterson's leadership in the computing field was recognized today by the Association for Computing Machinery, which honored him with its 2007 Distinguished Service Award.

Over the next five years, Intel and Microsoft expect to invest a combined $20 million in the two university centers, with each center receiving half. Researchers at the UC Berkeley center have also applied for a UC Discovery Grant, a matching grant mechanism that uses state and university funding to leverage industry investments in UC research.

Research from this effort is expected to lead to powerful new mainstream applications, such as a cell phone that allows a user to recognize the face of an approaching acquaintance and, more importantly, to whisper that person's name into the user's ear. Another application may be speech recognition software that can act as a court reporter by providing an accurate, written record of what was said by numerous people in a court or conference room.

"It is important for industry to work in tandem with academia to unleash the immense power of parallel computing," said Tony Hey, corporate vice president of external research at Microsoft Research. "We are privileged to have a dedicated research partner like UC Berkeley and look forward to partnering with it to transform the way multi-core technology is developed and used in the future."

Parallel computing at UC Berkeley
A diverse group of UC Berkeley researchers has been discussing the challenges of parallel computing for years. In February 2005, it began meeting weekly to discuss this parallel revolution from many angles. Those meetings led to a widely read white paper outlining the coming challenges of parallelism, in addition to the creation of the Parallel Computing Laboratory. Additional background about the discussions at UC Berkeley on the landscape of parallel computing research is available online.
In addition to Patterson, the center includes seven other UC Berkeley faculty members from the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences. Serving as principal investigators are Krste Asanovic, Ras Bodik, James Demmel, John Kubiatowicz, Kurt Keutzer, Koushik Sen and Katherine Yelick. Patterson, Demmel and Yelick also have joint appointments at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

The Par Lab not only brings together researchers focused on software and hardware, but also experts in disciplines ranging from music to medical technology to help push state-of-the-art computing applications in a wide range of fields.

"The researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have a long track record of making important contributions in computing software and hardware," said Andrew Chien, vice president of Intel's Corporate Technology Group and director of Intel Research. "Just as importantly, UC Berkeley has a long tradition of leadership in the academic research community in catalyzing infrastructure and change, and also a history with parallel computing, which will both be critical for bringing the promise of multi-core processing to the mainstream."

The concept of parallel computing, in which a task is divided up into smaller bits to be completed simultaneously to achieve greater speed and performance, has been around for more than 40 years, but it has been the domain of highly specialized programmers and scientists.

New "duo-core" and "quad-core" products that squeeze multiple processors onto a single, integrated circuit have successfully met the increased demand for performance in desktop and mobile computers, but researchers and industry experts are looking to a day when a computer chip will hold hundreds of processors.

"These so-called 'many-core processors' present some significant challenges to computer programming that we will address at this center," said Patterson. "As an analogy, eight reporters writing the same story could potentially write a story eight times faster. However, to achieve this increased speed, one would need to break up the task so that each reporter had the same amount of work to do. If anything went wrong and just one reporter took longer than the seven others, then the benefits of having eight writers would be diminished. You would also fall short if one part of the story, such as the conclusion, couldn't be written until all of the other parts were completed, creating a bottleneck."

The challenge ahead for the technology industry lies in bringing to mainstream developers and, ultimately, consumers, the benefits of multi-core processing based on tens or even hundreds of cores.

"The challenges of scheduling, load balancing and limits to parallelism apply to parallel programming as well as to the analogy of parallel story writing," said Yelick. "And as you might expect, the more people or processors involved, the stiffer the challenges."

A joint Intel-Microsoft technical evaluation committee selected UC Berkeley's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences from among 25 of the country's leading computer science departments to host one of the two UPCRC sites.

"This selection reflects UC Berkeley's outstanding reputation in computing," said Patterson, who is also part of the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS), an innovative public-private partnership between four UC campuses, the state of California and industry. "Our computer science department is consistently ranked among the top three programs in the country, and it is second-to-none in the specialty of computer systems. Moreover, a recent National Academies report noted that UC Berkeley researchers have invented technologies that led to seven multi-billion dollar IT industries, more than any other university in the country."

Research funds for the new center will be used to advance parallel programming applications, architecture and operating systems software. The center at UC Berkeley will host, in addition to the director and seven principal investigators, six members of the UC Berkeley faculty and 50 doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers. Software developed by the center will be provided to the technology community for additional development.

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