Saturday, June 9, 2007

Concurrent Programming: The Next Best Thing

I was one of the lucky few to attend the Google Developer Day in San Jose last week. It was quite interesting. One of the best talks I went to concerned the Google backend infrastructure. One of the topics they've worked on extensively is storing and organizing massive amounts of information. This probably isn't a surprise to anyone, but it highlighted to me the coming importance of concurrent programming.

For a short one-line introduction to the subject: concurrent programming concerns the simultaneous execution of multiple interacting computational tasks. O'Reilly recently pointed out that as the processor speeds remain stable, but the number of processors inside a computer continue to increase. In 5-10 years, having a computer with 50-100 processors will probably not be unusual. The real question is: how do you take advantage of all those processors?

I think many consumers assume that all these extra processors in their computers are being leveraged. I would say they are most likely assuming incorrectly, or at least, they are being leveraged inefficiently. Concurrent programming languages (such as Haskell) allow multiple processors to execute tasks simultaneously, and coordinate tasks between them. Now that's some sexy programming.

It can also make good financial sense to move into this area of programming. In O'Reilly's article, "The Faint Signals of Concurrency", utilizing an 8 CPU machine for processing data is much cheaper than buying a cluster of 8 machines for processing data.

Haskell is already a "hip" programming language (stop laughing). Among nerds, it is the cool language that wears its sunglasses at night, listens to jazz, and can recite quotes from famous philosophers. I would say that this is a bleeding edge language, and really needs more investigation by me.

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