Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Moore's Law Redux: Connectivity is More Important that Processing Power

While Moore's law continues to slow, traffic on international internet links continues to grow faster than capacity. 

Moore's law, which predicted a doubling of the number of transistors per chip every 18 months, lasted from the 1960's through the early 2000s.  Over the last 10 years, newer chips have cost less and use less energy, but they have not been noticeably faster. Yet, even as Moore's law has slowed, the rise of the internet has made individual computer chips less important.

Chip density is still increasing, but progress has slowed as chip designers bump up against fundamental physical constraints, like the size of silicon atoms.  Also, as chips get smaller and denser the problem of dark silicon has increased.  To combat these limitations, manufacturers have added multiple cores and specialized architecture for graphics processing and other specialized operations. But multicore processors are hard for software to use efficiently. (Ars Technica article.)

So the current state-of-the-art 14nm Broadwell chips will remain best for the next 18+ months.  Intel promises to go to 10nm and then 7nm with new non-silicon technology.  Non-silicon technology may also finally allow faster chip speeds.  3D chip architecture is the next big advance that will improve power efficiency.  

In the meantime, manufacturers have focused on building specialized chips for mobile applications and the internet of things.  It seems the brave new frontiers are really in new mobile and cloud-based applications where energy efficiency matters more than processing power.  Every person in the world will have, on average, three internet-connected devices by 2019.

Global peak Internet traffic volumes rose 37 percent overall in 2015.  In years past, peak  internet traffic increased in excess of 41 percent each year, a rate which implies that traffic is more than doubling every two years. Over the next three years, overall growth is projected to slow to 23% a year (Telegeography 2015 Annual Report, Executive Summary.)

Even with the relative slowing of internet growth, global internet traffic in 2019 will be equivalent to 64 times the volume of the entire global internet in 2005. Globally, Internet traffic will reach 18 gigabytes (GB) per capita by 2019, up from 6 GB per capita in 2014.

IP traffic is growing fastest in the Middle East and Africa, followed by Asia Pacific. Traffic in the Middle East and Africa will grow at 44 percent annually between 2014 and 2019. By 2019, there will be more internet traffic in east Asia than in North America.
(Cisco 2015 analysis.) (Ars Technica has an older analysis)

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