Server downtime: Eventually We will not Require Hardware

I’m not being entire­ly glib and I’m not talk­ing about cloud com­put­ing.  I’m not the first per­son to have said this, but I have repeat­ed it often: The end goal of the soft­ware engi­neer is to elim­i­nate the require­ment for hard­ware.

This is actu­al­ly more well-devel­oped that it appears at first blush.  If you take the exam­ple of the mod­ern proces­sor, for instance, the op-codes of the process are not cod­ed in tran­sis­tors, they are cod­ed in a ROM or even (some­times) and upgrade­able prom.  This isn’t even new.  The DEC Alpha process ran dif­fer­ent op-codes depend­ing on whether you were run­ning Open­VMS or UNIX on the machine.  I even remem­ber an update from DEC that was to reflash the proces­sor with new op-codes.  One big of com­put­er lore hand­ed down to me holds that DEC VAX sys­tems would ini­tial­ly come with microc­ode that includ­ed a NOP in very oth­er instruc­tion slot.  An “upgrade” from DEC remov­ing these NOPs dou­bled the speed of the sys­tem.

The line between hard­ware and soft­ware has been pushed back large­ly by asso­ci­at­ed costs.  Much of the “hard­ware” we use now is actu­al­ly soft­ware and much of it even includes it’s own oper­at­ing sys­tem.  A good exam­ple of this are “hard­ware” RAID cards.  Often they either have their own oper­at­ing sys­tem and run as a sep­a­rate com­put­er sys­tem inside your com­put­er or they rely heav­i­ly on soft­ware with­in the dri­ver to per­form all of the real work.

As an inter­est­ing aside, Rich Cook writes a series of fan­ta­sy books in which “mag­ic” is com­posed of ele­ments (like assem­bly code) that can be com­bined in order to pro­duce more com­plex things that mag­ic often pro­duces.  Its not real­ly explained what mag­ic runs on, but this seems to be as close to a vision of soft­ware with­out hard­ware as I’ve seen.  The first cou­ple books in the series are free (Baen Books has a par­tic­u­lar­ly good posi­tion regard­ing DRM: They use none and they prof­it from using none) and well worth the read.

This is all by way of apol­o­gy for the site being down for a few hours yes­ter­day.  The serv­er seems to loose it’s mind occa­sion­al­ly.  It’s not often enough to fix or fig­ure out.  Hard­ware is evil.

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