Way back in the 60’s and 70’s, a fellow named Gordon Moore posited that computer processor complexity would double every two years. That is not precisely what he predicted (I have simplified it somewhat), and he amended this a few times since. But the idea that most of us take away from Moore’s Law is that computer speed/capacity/capability doubles every couple of years. And for the most part, this has turned out to be true.
Today I brought up 4 new computers. Each was unboxed, checked, assembled, mounted, wired, and powered up - after which the operating system was installed. All told, this took less than 90 minutes. Grand total resources put into production today were 2TB of RAM, 64TB of disk storage, and 112 cpu cores. While this is nothing to sneeze at, these four machines are not groundbreaking in any way. For instance, the processors aren’t even new - they are over one year old. Neither are the disks or memory as large or fast as are currently available. Nor is the number of servers out of the ordinary - one month ago I commissioned 14 of these servers in the space of about 2 hours. I don’t even want to do the math on those resources … What thought struck me as I was handling this equipment was how far all of this hardware technology has come while I’ve been involved.
30 years ago I purchased my 3rd or 4th computer. I already had a couple of C64 and C128 computers, and even ran a 24-hour BBS on a dedicated phone line. But this Amiga computer was a real beauty. Compared to my workhorse C64 systems, the Amiga 500 clock ran 7 times faster and came with 8 times the amount of memory. Oh, and the Amiga sported a multi-tasking operating system with a 4,096 color graphical user interface and stereo sound. Out of the box. To put this into perspective, this was at a time when everybody’s DOS-based PC had two-color text screens and cheesy beep-beep-beep type of audio. This Amiga was way ahead of its time - search the ‘net a bit and you’ll start to understand why. But the point is that I was already witnessing Moore’s Law in action.
Now fast forward 30 years, and what has changed? Never mind that the computers I commissioned today were based on a processor 2 generations behind what is currently available, and are not even the fastest from their antiquated generation. Quick math suggests that each computer’s CPU clock is roughly 500 times faster than that of my original Amiga. And these computers each have 28 cpu cores, which could theoretically make them 14,000 times faster. Hyperthreading supposedly allows each core to process 2 instructions at one time - so that number baloons to 28,000. And the memory? 1,000 times as much. Disk space? Heh. The Amiga came with a floppy drive capable of storing 880KB. Today’s servers each came with eight 2TB disks … So that makes what, 19 million times the amount of disk storage?
I don’t know how that works out, as far as Moore’s Law goes, but computer hardware technology has clearly grown a LOT in the past 30 years. And that’s only the hardware side of things - software technology has seen its share of advancements as well. I wonder what this will all look like in another 30 years …