''I'm excited about the processor road maps.'' - Q&A with Matt Tracewell, Executive Vice President of Tracewell Systems

Next-generation technologies are redefining price-point and performance today for the evolution of integration tomorrow.

1Recent reviews by leading computer magazines tout Intel’s Core processor family as spewing the most performance ever seen out of desktop and laptop computers. With next-gen Sandy Bridge versions of Core devices already in fab, 2011 promises to ratchet up performance even more. As well, Freescale’s QorIQ devices are targeting cellular base stations, and NVIDIA and VIA are pouncing on GPU and low-power niches, respectively. It’s no wonder systems integration expert Matt Tracewell has something to be thrilled about. Interviewed by Editor Chris A. Ciufo. Edited excerpts follow.

Which technology are you most excited about today?

TRACEWELL: Really, I’m excited about all the [micro]processor road maps. So whether we’re talking the IBM Power product line or the Intel Sandy Bridge-type technology, it’s phenomenal what those mean to capability. They have so many applications and are so capable of transforming the market at a price point and a Size, Weight, and Power [SWaP] level that wasn’t available previously; you just couldn’t solve the problems before now. I’m all about enabling technology and lowering barriers to entry, which are key to numerous [military] programs.

GPUs are also revolutionary. So because of the processing horsepower, there are moves to things like OpenCL where you can common-out the programming language and have portability on different processing platforms. And so with that, you can benchmark against a number of best-of-breed types of either processors or techniques. And still today you get variations in performance: CPU/GPU combinations, or what’s projected on Sandy Bridge, or what IBM is doing on the Power line. But as you move further and further into the future, that all kind of melds together.

So which technologies are you excited about in the short-term future?

TRACEWELL: The coming-of-age of nano materials. Look at all the DARPA announcements and awards over the past four or five years and you will find maturing technologies that are now being used in small scale for very pinpoint-specific problems, whether it’s a thermal issue, conductivity, or trying to make different types of composites with thermal, mechanical, and EMI shielding properties. And within that, what makes all of them work are what I’ll call nano projects – pieces of technologies that have been matured enough that they’re starting to be usable. And what I see happening is that as those first-out-of-the-gate usable products start to join together to create the next level of integration, the result is all kinds of functionality the industry hasn’t seen before.

Can you point to any particular DARPA program?

TRACEWELL: The ones right now that I have my hands on best are the materials ones. So you’ve got materials, and that ties in to sensors as well.

What’s missing from our technology future?

TRACEWELL: Energy. We’re moving toward energy as “energy.” And it really doesn’t make any difference what domain it sits in. And you sense it and process it, and that ties back to this high-end processing capability we’re discussing.

Can you be more specific? That’s a little bit too ephemeral.

TRACEWELL: Well, OK. So I’ve got all this capability and I’m making it mobile. The equipment is portable; it gets sent all over the place. We’ve been talking about fuel cells forever. We’ve been pushing battery technology. You’ve got some nano capability showing up in batteries.

You have processor power consumption coming down, but the issue still is: “In the future, I’ve got this great capability and I’d like to put it someplace and forget about it. I’d like it to run for two years on a charge, or on its stored energy, in a reasonable manner.” How does that happen? We’re still missing those pieces.

So there’s work being done, but there’s no shining hope out there for dramatic energy savings or harnessing the energy that’s available all around us. There’s work being done on RF energy-harvesting chips. So there are little pieces like that, but it’s thousands of dollars still to do that. We’re still waiting.

Matt Tracewell is Executive Vice President, Tracewell Systems. He pioneered Tracewell’s concept of Advanced Form Factor Engineering, a process where COTS technology and products are modified to meet the needs of the DoD and companies in aerospace, healthcare, telecom, and other industries. Matt holds four registered patents and is a graduate of Ohio State University. He can be reached at  mtracewell@tracewell.com.

Tracewell Systems 614-846-6175 www.tracewellsystems.com