Microsoft is apparently attempting a concerted effort to retake leadership of the computing trends of the 2020s by returning to its foundational principles and rethinking some of its strategic partnerships. One of said partnerships is the one named “Wintel”, where Microsoft consolidated both its architecture and its stronghold of the market on the back on the more mature Intel monopoly. In the strictest sense, “Wintel” refers only to computers that run Windows on an Intel processor, even if in recent years this refers to running Windows on the x64 architecture (vendors now being AMD and Intel).

On November the 6th 2019, Microsoft published the following on their official account, announcing their intention to redesign the principles of storage, processing and storage, as follow:

  • High-durability storage (S) using femtolasers on crystals. Partnering with South Hampton University, which already had a track record in researching the use of nanostructured glass for storage, with the recording and retrieval processes of five dimensional (5D) digital data by femtosecond laser writing.
  • Optical, spectral switching and routing (connectivity – C), to reduce energy consumption and latency for routing in data centers. This would indicate a pursuit of mainstream adoption and use of passive optical networks, which brings networking efficiencies by avoiding the back-and-forth between electromagnetic-world (photons) and electronic world (electrons)
  • Optical processing (P), which I assume at this point is highly speculative, would allow for leveraging a wider spectrum of state and behaviors in the electromagnetic world (amplitude, phase, frequency and many derivate forms) rather than the dull electronic binary states of |0| and |1|.

On the 13th of November, Graphcore, an UK-based company focused on designing chip for artificial intelligence, announced:

“Today we are very excited to share details of our collaboration with Microsoft, announcing preview of Graphcore® Intelligence Processing Units (IPUs) on Microsoft Azure. This is the first time a major public cloud vendor is offering Graphcore IPUs which are built from the ground up to support next generation machine learning. It’s a landmark moment for Graphcore and is testament to the maturity of our patented IPU technology, both of our IPU hardware and of our Poplar® software stack.”

On the same day, Wired wrote:

Microsoft hopes to extend the popularity of its Azure cloud platform with a new kind of computer chip designed for the age of AI. Starting today, Microsoft is providing Azure customers with access to chips made by the British startup Graphcore.

Graphcore, founded in Bristol, UK, in 2016, has attracted considerable attention among AI researchers—and several hundred million dollars in investment—on the promise that its chips will accelerate the computations required to make AI work. Until now it has not made the chips publicly available or shown the results of trials involving early testers.

Sure, this does not mean that the entire IT landscape will change within 12 months. But it’s a rather strong signal when a giant is diversifying its portfolio at the core infrastructure. This means that the state of the art of current and potential software and artificial intelligence application have reached and exceeded current hardware capabilities.

A model representation of the femtolaser writing on crystal (nano-structured glass)

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