The ’80s represent for many the adolescence of the history of computing. Computers are beginning to have an increasingly visible presence in companies and the IT industry is at a time when it “has to decide” what it wants to be, how it is going to draw its future in the face of next decades.
In this area, there are many companies that are fighting tooth and nail to dominate a market that at that time lives much more by promises than by realities and that will take a few more years to conquer the world.
Different architectures aspire to dominate the world of computing: Intel x86, IBM POWER, MIPS (especially in NEC and Toshiba), Alpha (developed by Digital Equipment), Motorola PowerPC, Sun Sparc or Hewlett-Packard PA-RISC. As is known by all, most of these architectures disappear over the years, until reaching a 21st century in which basically two survive: x86 (basically Intel and AMD) and ARM , increasingly in vogue for a while. to this part.
However, as stated by Calista Redmond , CEO of the RISC-V International consortium , in an interview with ZDNET, right now “we are experiencing the greatest opportunity, since the 1980s, to change the trajectory of computing and hardware” .
And it is that the RISC-V project has not only been gaining more and more weight since its development a decade ago at the University of Berkeley, but is also beginning to achieve impressive technical progress, as a new processor that already exceeds the barrier of 5 GHz. (well above the most powerful Intel Xeon chip, which reaches up to 3.2 GHz.)
Intel, NVIDIA and the development of RISC-V
The fact that RISC-V is an open design, so to speak the “linux of processors”, has also attracted the attention of a good part of the industry and above all, of some countries that, like China, want to break ties with technology companies Americans and who fear that the duopoly formed by Intel and, after acquiring ARM, NVIDIA, could become a problem.
However, it is precisely Intel that does not seem willing to let a phenomenon like RISC-V get out of hand. In this sense, SiFive , one of the most promising startups in this field, has signed a collaboration agreement with Intel itself, to produce chips based on this architecture at its facilities .
On the other hand, the acquisition of ARM by NVIDIA, may lead other companies to bet on the development of this architecture. Without going any further, the CEO of Xilinx, Victor Peng , declared last May that this purchase “is going to become good news for RISC-V; It is going to consolidate as a great alternative ”.
Open hardware asks for passage
Calista Redmond has a long history in the hardware world. Before joining the RISC-V consortium, he spent 13 years at IBM, where he led the development of the ecosystem that revolves around its “Z series”, mainframes that are still being sold and maintained by many companies.
She has also been president of the OpenPower Foundation , a non-profit organization whose mission is to develop applications for POWER processors. Finally, it is necessary to add his position in the Open Mainframe Project , the organization that is committed to bringing Linux to the world of the mainframe.
He explains to ZDnet that 40 years ago all the technology that was developed was based on the concept of private property and the few open projects simply did not have the necessary tools to be able to succeed at that time.
The current moment, however, is very different and is convinced that a project like RISC-V has all the necessary ingredients to stand up: “We have a large number of people who have signed up, from students to entrepreneurs, through startups. and even multinationals. The number of members has doubled in the last year, to over 2,000 ”, he indicates.
And what about the software? As stated by this international consortium, large companies such as Canonical (Ubuntu) and SuSE are working to bring their operating systems and applications to the new architecture, which can become a before and after for the expansion of the project. But also in industries such as automotive, this architecture is being incorporated into the production of certain vehicles, and large hyperscale clouds such as Alibaba are already using these chips in their data centers.
Redmond of course is not naive and is well aware that there is much to be done for RISC-V to have a truly viable commercial future, but she is convinced that there is no going back and that the world is heading, also in hardware, towards open architectures.