Thursday, 22 February 2007

Jim Gray

I can't believe that I missed the news that Jim Gray had been reported as lost-at-sea.  This is just terrible.  Jim Gray is one of the greatest minds around.  Whenever I've heard Jim speak, or read one of his papers, I've been struck by the depth of his insight and the power of his quiet, engaging style.

The last time I saw and heard him in person was at PDC2003.   He talked about high-performance computing (and distributed copies of this paper), discussed the building of very large servers (e.g. for the SkyServer project), and said something which stuck in my mind ever since.  He was talking about the problems of processing very large volumes of scientific data and building petabyte-scale computing facilities (later expressed in this paper).  He said (this is not a verbatim quote), "We've got to start thinking in terms of moving the program to the data, instead of the other way round, which is what we've been doing for years".

This is a profound idea, which is workable now that we have almost ubiquitous networking, grid-computing, and fast, cheap hardware (CPU and storage).  Network bandwidth, though improving all the time, is not increasing fast enough to keep track with the increase in data we need to analyse.

Maybe Jim is still out there on the Farallon Islands, getting away from it all.  I just wish he'd let us  know he's OK.

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