One of the Mac’s creators, Bud Tribble, said that one of the trends he and his colleagues at Apple have noticed is that Mac OS X is coming on strong in the sciences, both in the commercial and academic worlds. For the last keynote at the O’Reilly Mac OS X conference, Tribble described some trends for Mac OS X in the sciences and why the operating system and the Mac itself are becoming so attractive to researchers.
Tribble said that many researchers told him that Mac OS X allowed them to trade in three computers — namely a Mac, a PC and a Unix machine — for one computer, a Mac running OS X. Researchers can use Mac OS X to run their Unix applications, their commercial research applications like Mathematica and their productivity applications such as Photoshop or Word all on one machine.
“Many universities and businesses have an Office infrastructure,” Tribble said. “And a Mac using Mac OS X fits seamlessly into that infrastructure and a Windows network.”
Apple’s dedication to designing products that best serve their core market of image processing, audio and video professionals has also given the scientific community a product that is well suited for their needs. Tribble said that the processing needs of these users closely matches the processing needs of scientists.
As an example, Tribble described the features of the G5 that were attractive to scientists. Since scientists routinely work with huge files, the fact that the G5 can address more memory and work on larger data structures is a crucial point. Breaking the 4GB physical memory barrier is also a key point. Tribble said that the human genome, held in memory, requires between 10GB and 12GB.
The G5, which features two arithmetic units and two floating-point units, also gives scientists the mathematical processing power they need. And then there’s Altivec, which scientists routinely rely on to speed up their modeling and other calculations. Scientists can also use Apple’s vector libraries to optimize their applications for Altivec.
Tribble said that he spotted four trends in scientific computing on the Mac. The first is that the scientific community is at the forefront of using open standards and open source, especially in the Unix world. Since Mac OS X is based on Unix, scientists can quickly use applications they need. Additionally, members of the scientific community also seem to quickly be taking Unix applications and porting them to Mac OS X, including an Aqua interface. Additionally, many companies and researchers are doing their own custom development of in-house applications by bolting together potions of open source code with their own. Tribble said that Mac OS X, with all of its built in development tools, is also attractive to researchers for this.
Since many scientists are using the Mac, Tribble said that commercial scientific software developers are also coming to Mac OS X. He sees an “application explosion” happening now as commercial developers are seeing increased interest in the Mac by their users.
The last two trends that are happening in the scientific community are an increased interest in computer aided visualization and simulation applications and the computer clustering necessary to cheaply handle the processing requirements of such efforts. Tribble said that the price to performance ratio of the Mac, especially the Power Mac G5, is the main feature drawing university departments into designing clusters of tens to hundreds of Macs. Several times Tribble also commented on the Virginia Tech Terascale Computing Facility as an example.
In the future, Tribble said that there might be some difficulty for processing performance to keep up with the needs of the scientific community. As an example, Tribble compared the research on the number of sequenced genomes versus Moore’s Law. Moore posited that processor performance at a fixed price doubles every 18 months. Tribble said that the number of base pairs, a subset of genomes, is doubling every 12 months and possibly even getting faster than that.
“The data explosion will give Moore’s law a run for its money,” Tribble said.