I asked Manju Hedge what part of the whole HSA effort keeps him awake at night. He answered without hesitation:
"How we’re going to get adoption. Our plan is to go broad. With the HSA Foundation, we made a huge bet. We’re contributing...I don’t know how many millions of dollars of IP. The reason we’re donating this to the industry is we want a rising tide to lift all. When that happens, the software ecosystem gets excited and that will be a catalyst to increasing adoption."
AMD is dead serious about this. Today, all of the company’s OpenCL tools are freely distributed. To my knowledge, every other company in the heterogeneous space charges for its tools. AMD wants all kinds of developers, from the largest names to one-person garage outfits, to be free from worrying about the economics of tools for developer environments.
Will HSA complete the reversal of AMD’s misfortunes and restore the company to its former glory? A cynic might answer: it sure couldn’t hurt. But the more thoughtful answer is that HSA is the culmination of a heterogeneous strategy born almost a decade ago. Dave Orton and Dirk Meyer saw the inevitability of today and set out to make that future happen in a way that was as beneficial to everyone involved. We see time and again that the industry gravitates to open standards and increasing efficiency. Given this, it seems likely that AMD has finally scored the victory it’s sought for so long.
"At the end of the day, we’re not maniacally focused on beating a single company," says AMD’s Joe Macri. "We’re maniacally focused on up-leveling the experience of all consumers. By doing that, many of our competition will fall out. They’ll not have the IP, or they’ll have only some of the IP. Or maybe they’ll be forced to merge, which is a very difficult thing. Intel is a wildcard. No doubt about it, they’re a very capable company and a great bunch of folks. But when you’re the incumbent, it’s much more difficult to embrace change. You only want to embrace unavoidable change because everything else costs money. So we gotta see how they pull their triggers. But I’d hate to be in their position. You don’t know how many people I interview from Intel specifically because their research doesn’t get utilized, because a VP says, 'Hey, that’s just going to cost us money. Maybe we’ll utilize your research somewhere over the next ten years.' That kills an engineer.”
At a time when cracks are appearing in Moore’s Law and the costs of shrinking fab processes continue to skyrocket, an industry that wants to keep accelerating compute capabilities must turn increasingly to optimizing efficiency. Ultimately, this is what GPGPU and HSA enable. By old methods, how much would a CPU need to evolve in order to facilitate a 5x performance gain? Now, such gains are possible simply through hardware and software vendors adopting an end-to-end platform such as HSA. No pushing the envelope of lithography physics. No new multi-billion-dollar factories. Just more efficient utilization of the technologies already on the table. And through that, the world of computing can take a quantum leap forward.