This timely book comes as we navigate a major turning point in our industry: parallel hardware + mobile devices = the pocket supercomputer as the mainstream platform for the next 20 years.

Parallel applications are increasingly needed to exploit all kinds of target hardware. As I write this, getting full computational performance out of most machines—nearly all desktops and laptops, most game consoles, and the newest smartphones—already means harnessing local parallel hardware, mainly in the form of multicore CPU processing; this is the commoditization of the supercomputer. Increasingly in the coming years, getting that full performance will also mean using gradually ever-more-heterogeneous processing, from local general-purpose computation on graphics processing units (GPGPU) flavors to harnessing "often-on" remote parallel computing power in the form of elastic compute clouds; this is the generalization of the heterogeneous cluster in all its NUMA glory, with instantiations ranging from on-die to on-machine to on-cloud, with early examples of each kind already available in the wild.

Starting now and for the foreseeable future, for compute-bound applications, "fast" will be synonymous not just with "parallel," but with "scalably parallel." Only scalably parallel applications that can be shipped with lots of latent concurrency beyond what can be exploited in this year’s mainstream machines will be able to enjoy the new Free Lunch of getting substantially faster when today’s binaries can be installed and blossom on tomorrow’s hardware that will have more parallelism.

Visual C++ 2010 with its Parallel Patterns Library (PPL), described in this book, helps enable applications to take the first steps down this new path as it continues to unfold. During the design of PPL, many people did a lot of heavy lifting. For my part, I was glad to be able to contribute the heavy emphasis on lambda functions as the key central language extension that enabled the rest of PPL to be built as Standard Template Library (STL)-like algorithms implemented as a normal library. We could instead have built a half-dozen new kinds of special-purpose parallel loops into the language itself (and almost did), but that would have been terribly invasive and non-general. Adding a single general-purpose language feature like lambdas that can be used everywhere, including with PPL but not limited to only that, is vastly superior to baking special cases into the language.

The good news is that, in large parts of the world, we have as an industry already achieved pervasive computing: the vision of putting a computer on every desk, in every living room, and in everyone’s pocket. But now we are in the process of delivering pervasive and even elastic supercomputing: putting a supercomputer on every desk, in every living room, and in everyone’s pocket, with both local and non-local resources. In 1984, when I was just finishing high school, the world’s fastest computer was a Cray X-MP with four processors, 128MB of RAM, and peak performance of 942MFLOPS—or, put another way, a fraction of the parallelism, memory, and computational power of a 2005 vintage Xbox, never mind modern "phones" and Kinect. We’ve come a long way, and the pace of change is not only still strong, but still accelerating.

The industry turn to parallelism that has begun with multicore CPUs (for the reasons I outlined a few years ago in my essay "The Free Lunch Is Over") will continue to be accelerated by GPGPU computing, elastic cloud computing, and other new and fundamentally parallel trends that deliver vast amounts of new computational power in forms that will become increasingly available to us through our mainstream programming languages. At Microsoft, we’re very happy to be able to be part of delivering this and future generations of tools for mainstream parallel computing across the industry. With PPL in particular, I’m very pleased to see how well the final product has turned out and look forward to seeing its capabilities continue to grow as we re-enable the new Free Lunch applications—scalable parallel applications ready for our next 20 years.

Herb Sutter
Principal Architect, Microsoft
Bellevue, WA, USA

February 2011

Last built: March 9, 2012