Moore's Law applied to the Data Center, podcast of Microsoft's Mike Manos

Techhermit posted a blog entry, pointing to an Uptime Institute podcast with Microsoft's Mike Manos, chief of data centers discussing the idea of Moore's Law Applied to the Data Center.

Can Moore's Law be applied to the data center?  The late Jim Gray wrote on Moore's Law topic, and made the following observations.

Beginning as a simple observation of trends in semiconductor device complexity, Moore's Law has become many things. It is an explanatory variable for the qualitative uniqueness of the semiconductor as a base technology. It is now recognized as a benchmark of progress for the entire semiconductor industry. And increasingly it is becoming a metaphor for technological progress on a broader scale. As to explaining the real "causes" of Moore's Law, this examination has just begun. For example, the hypothesis that semiconductor device users' expectations feed back and self-reinforce the attainment of Moore's Law (see Figure 1) is still far from being validated or disproved. There does appear to be support for this notion primarily in the software industry (e.g., "Wintel" de facto architecture). Further research, including survey research and additional interviews, is required to address this possible relationship.

What has been learned from this early investigation is the critical role that process innovations in general, and manufacturing equipment innovations in particular play in providing the technological capability to fabricate smaller and smaller semiconductor devices. The most notable of process innovations was the planar diffusion process in 1959 -- the origin of Moore's Law. Consistent with Thomas Kuhn's (1962) paradigm-shifting view of "scientific revolution," many have described the semiconductor era as a "microelectronics revolution." (Forester 1982, Braun and Macdonald 1982, Gilder 1989, Malone 1996, and others) Indeed, the broad applications and pervasive technological, economic, and social impacts that continue to come forth from "that astonishing microchip" (Economist 1996) seem almost endless. However, this phenomenon has also been aptly described by Bessant and Dickson (1982) as evolutionary, albeit at an exponential rate.

"In a definite technical sense there has been no revolution (save, perhaps, for the invention of the transistor in 1947) but rather a steady evolution since the first invention."

Moore's Law is one measure of the pace of this "steady evolution." Its regularity is daunting. The invention of the transistor, and to a lesser degree the integrated circuit a decade later, represented significant scientific and technological breakthroughs, and are both classic examples of the Schumpeterian view of "creative destruction" effects of innovation. This is evidenced by the literal creation of an entire new semiconductor industry at the expense of the large electronics firms that dominated the preceding vacuum tube technological era. This period of transition from old technology to new technology is characterized by instability, and factors that underpin very irregular performance. This would be considered a shift in the economic and technological paradigm (Dosi 1984, 1988) similar to Constant's (1980) account of the "Turbojet Revolution" where the invention of the turbojet, along with co-evolutionary developments including advancements in airframe design and materials, enabled significant performance improvements in air speed and altitude. The turbojet produced a whole new "jet engine" industry and helped redefine both military and commercial aircraft industries and their users (e.g., airlines). Following the early experimental years of the turbojet, these industries settled in on a new technological trajectory (Dosi 1984, 1988) toward the frontier of the "jet age."

Innovations within the boundary limits of this new frontier occurred at a rapid, but more regular rate. The role of accumulated knowledge -- both tacit and explicit (Freeman 1994) -- and standards (e.g., the role of the Proney brake as the benchmark for performance measurement and testing) are emphasized. Similarly, semiconductor development since the planar process has followed Klein's (1977) description of "fast history," but is more in line with Pavitt's (1986) application of "creative accumulation" (i.e., the new technology builds on the old). The "new" technology in this case is the accumulated incremental -- particularly process-oriented -- advancements indicative of the Moore's Law semiconductor "era." As for standards, indeed Moore's Law itself is used throughout the industry as the benchmark of progress, evidenced most strikingly by the kilo- to mega- to giga-bit density DRAM chips. Increasingly, regular advances in microprocessor performance measures such as MIPS (millions of instructions per second) and MHZ processing speeds follow -- and become part of -- Moore's Law.

Moore's law can apply to the data centers when you apply Jim's observations

  • Process innovations play a critical role
  • Steady evolution
  • Role of accumulated knowledge

Is this what Mike Manos was trying to explain in his podcast?

Is this how Microsoft's Data Center Solutions group develops their data centers?

It will be interesting what Mike presents as a speaker at AFCOM and Uptime Institute.