Images of Eurora, the world’s greenest supercomputer

Yesterday I was in Bologna for the press launch of Eurora at Cineca, a non-profit consortium of universities and other public bodies. The claim is that Eurora is the world’s greenest supercomputer.


Eurora is a prototype deployment of Aurora Tigon, made by Eurotech. It is a hybrid supercomputer, with 128 CPUs supplemented by 128 NVidia Kepler K20 GPUs.

What makes it green? Of course, being new is good, as processor efficiency improves with every release, and “green-ness” is measured in floating point operations per watt. Eurora does 3150 Mflop/s per watt.

There is more though. Eurotech is a believer in water cooling, which is more efficient than air. Further, it is easier to do something useful with the hot water you generate than with hot air, such as generating energy.

Other factors include underclocking slightly, and supplying 48 volt DC power in order to avoid power conversion steps.

Eurora is composed of 64 nodes. Each node has a board with 2 Intel Xeon E5-2687W CPUs, an Altera Stratix V FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array), an SSD drive, and RAM soldered to the board; apparently soldering the RAM is more efficient than using DIMMs.


Here is the FPGA:


and one of the Intel-confidential CPUs:


On top of this board goes a water-cooled metal block. This presses against the CPU and other components for efficient heat exchange. There is no fan.

Then on top of that go the K20 GPU accelerator boards. The design means that these can be changed for Intel Xeon Phi accelerator boards. Eurotech is neutral in the NVidia vs Intel accelerator wars.


Here you can see where the water enters and leaves the heatsink. When you plug a node into the rack, you connect it to the plumbing as well as the electrics.


Here are 8 nodes in a rack.


Under the floor is a whole lot more plumbing. This is inside the Aurora cabinet where pipes and wires rise from the floor.


Here is a look under the floor outside the cabinet.


while at the corner of the room is a sort of pump room that pumps the water, monitors the system, adds chemicals to prevent algae from growing, and no doubt a few other things.


The press was asked NOT to operate this big red switch:


I am not sure whether the switch we were not meant to operate is the upper red button, or the lower red lever. To be on the safe side, I left them both as-is.

So here is a thought. Apparently Eurora is 15 times more energy-efficient than a typical desktop. If the mobile revolution continues and we all use tablets, which also tend to be relatively energy-efficient, could we save substantial energy by using the cloud when we need more grunt (whether processing or video) than a tablet can provide?

Microsoft’s Visual Studio and Team Foundation Server get Git integration

Microsoft has announced Git integration in both the Visual Studio IDE and the Team Foundation Service hosted source code management system. According to Technical Fellow Brian Harry:

1. Team Foundation Server will host Git repositories – and more concretely, Team Foundation Service has support for hosting Git repositories starting today.

2. Visual Studio will have Git support – and concretely, we released a CTP of a VSIX plugin for the Visual Studio 2012 Update 2 CTP today.

Git is an open source version control system originally designed by Linus Torvalds to support the development of the Linux operating system. It is a distributed version control system, which means every working directory is itself a full repository, enabling easy forking and offline work.

Team Foundation Service is a version of Team Foundation Server hosted by Microsoft.

Git integration was also recently added to Perforce, another version control system, in the form of the Perforce Git Fusion add-in, emphasising the fact that Git is now a mainstream, enterprise revision control system.

Java software quality: frameworks good, Struts or C++ bad says report

CAST has released an intriguing report on Java applications and software quality.

The company analysed 497 applications, comprising 152 million lines of code across 88 organisations and six global industries. It then looked at how software quality correlated with frameworks used.

◾Hibernate has the highest quality scores.
◾Applications built with Struts have the lowest quality scores.
◾Applications that did not use any framework had a huge variance in quality, which indicates that frameworks do in fact help develop applications of predictable quality.

A further investigation looked at what happens to software quality in mixed language applications:

◾Applications built in pure JEE, with no frameworks or multi-lingual mingling, had the highest quality scores.
◾Mixing Java with C or C++ lowers quality scores.
◾Mixing Java with COBOL, Java-DB, and Microsoft .NET delivered higher quality scores.

Frameworks are good but pure J2EE is better? Mixing with C/C++ lowers software quality, but mixing with .NET or COBOL raises software quality? These are odd results, and I wonder if this research is correlating the right factors. Here is a clue:

One common challenge for developers with framework usage is configuring them correctly. CAST data shows that a large majority of applications analyzed had some level of misconfiguration, indicating the need for better training or to simplify the use of frameworks.

I have a hunch that what this research really tells us is that the most competent developers deliver the highest quality code. Maybe the smartest developers do not use Struts.

When Google Maps is wrong

When I arrived in Bologna yesterday I was well prepared. I had found my hotel on Google Maps and printed out the map. I had plenty of time, so rather than take a taxi from the airport I decided to take the bus and then a short walk to the hotel.

All went well, I thought; I got off at the right stop, crossed the river, and walked to where the hotel was on my map. It a sizeable hotel and is even marked on the map.


Oh dear. No hotel. I was on the right road, but instead of a welcoming hostelry there was a high fence behind which was a residential area.

I sought directions. Unfortunately I don’t speak Italian, but I pointed at the hotel on my Google Map. My helpers did not speak English but helpfully pointed me back the way that I came.

I turned on my smartphone. Bing Maps could not find the hotel at all, a fact confirmed by the full browser version.


I tried Nokia Drive. That could find the hotel, but placed it in the same wrong place as Google Maps. I walked there anyway. I was standing right next to the finish flag, no hotel.

Again I sought directions. This time my helper spoke good English. “It is the other side of the river”, he said. Only about 10-15 minutes walk, but still.

He was right. Here is the hotel’s map on its site, again a Google map but note with its own pushpin.


Google maps thinks it is east of the river, but in fact it is west of the river, approximately 1.5km away from Google’s location.

The hotel is not particularly small.


No surprise I guess that Google Maps has errors, but I am surprised that a prominent hotel in a well-known city is so significantly misplaced. And that Nokia Drive has the same wrong information, suggesting a common source.

The lesson: local knowledge is best.

It gives me pause for thought though. On the web, if Google cannot find you, traffic drops alarmingly. Could the same be true in the physical world? Could there be future lawsuits over lost business from missing or incorrect information on IT systems on which we rely?

Fortunately I was still in good time for a nice plate of pasta before bed.

Postscript: The hotel told us that it is aware of the issue and has told Google “many times” but has been unable to get it corrected.

Another point worth mentioning: in order to find the right bus I had consulted with Tourist Information at the airport. They had worked out my route using … Google Maps. It shows the extent Google’s service is embedded into our way of life, increasing the significance of errors.

Office 2013 annoyances: Avoiding the Backstage, slow typing in SkyDrive

I have been using Microsoft Office 2013 since the first public previews. It is a high quality release, though washed-out in appearance, but there is one thing I find annoying.

In previous versions of Office, if you start a new document and hit Save you get a Save As dialog pointing at your default save location. Type a document name, press Enter and you are done.

In Office 2013, the same steps open the Backstage, a full window view where you have first to select a location. You cannot type a document name immediately, even if you are saving to your default folder.


It is only one or two extra clicks, but it is annoying.

The fix is to go to File – Options and check Don’t show the Backstage when opening or saving files.


Now Save works in the same way as before.

If you also check Save to Computer by default, it will no longer try to save in SkyDrive every time.

This reminds me of another problem, which I doubt is unique to me. I like using SkyDrive, but there is something broken about the way Office communicates with SkyDrive. It seems to be chatty, checking perhaps whether another person is editing the online version of the document. The consequence is that sometimes (but not always) editing in Word slows to a crawl. You have to wait after each keystroke for the letter to appear. Usually this problem appears only after I have been working in a document for a while. The workaround I have found is to Save As to a local folder, and to remember to put your updated version back on SkyDrive afterwards.

Maybe there is a fix for this behaviour as well. If you know of one, please comment below.

Contract Bridge on a tablet: Funbridge vs Bridgebase vs Bridge Baron

Bridge is an ideal game for a tablet, well suited to touch control and the kind of game you can play for a few minutes or a few hours at a time, which is excellent for travellers.

So what are the choices? Here is a quick look at some favourites.

Funbridge is available for iPhone, iPad and Android. There are also versions for Windows and Mac. The Android edition is the newest but works fine, though of all of them it is the iOS release that is the nicest to use.


The way Funbridge works is that you always play against a computer, though this is on the internet rather than running locally, but your scores are compared with other humans playing the same hands. I have not tried the “Two players game” so I am not sure how that works, except that the other player has to be a “friend” in the Funbridge community system. It looks like you play with your friend against two bots.

Funbridge has a lot to like. The user interface is excellent, much the best of all the tablet bridge software I have used and better than most desktop bridge software too. There is a good variety of game options, including one-off games, tournaments of 5 games each, and a series ladder you can climb from 1 club to 7 no trumps. You can select one of 6 conventions, including ACOL, SAYC (American Standard), and 5 card major at three levels from beginner to expert. I think this is a hint that to get the best from Funbridge you should use the 5 card major system.

Another nice feature of Funbridge is that you can go back and replay a hand to try a different line of play. You can also see all the other scores on any hand, and how they were bid and played.

Funbridge is not perfect though. The bidding is eccentric at times, and it can be hard to persuade your partner bot to play in no trumps rather than a suit. There is definitely an art to winning at Funbridge that is a different from what it takes to win at a real bridge table.

Since you are playing against a cloud-based server, you can only play if you have an internet connection. Not so good for most flights.

Funbridge is a pay per game service. Currently 50 deals costs £1.49 (about 3p each) or if you pay more the per-deal cost falls to under 2p. Unlimited deals for a year costs £69.99.

That said, you can get 10 games a week for free, though you only get the 10 free games if you have no paid games in your account; slightly unfair to the paying customers.

Bridgebase is available for iPad, iPhone, Android and Amazon Kindle. Bridgebase also offers a browser-based game based on Adobe Flash. Like Funbridge, you can only play with an internet connection. You can either play with human opponents, or solo with three bots.


Of course human opponents are more fun, though there are advantages to playing with bots. No pressure, you can think for as long as you like, and none of the issues which afflict online bridge, such as players simply disappearing when in a bad contract, or being bad tempered if you make a mistake.

The Bridgebase user interface is OK though feels clunky compared to the smoothness of Funbridge. As in Funbridge, you can compare your score with other human players even if you play against bots. You cannot replay games, but you can undo your play which means you can easily cheat against the bots if you feel so inclined. Against humans your opponents have to approve an undo, which they will be reluctant to do other then in cases of genuine mis-taps.

The biggest problem with Bridgebase is the standard of the bots, which is much weaker than Funbridge. The play can be quite bizarre at times, sometimes excellent, sometimes daft.

A weak feature is that if your computer partner wins the auction, it also plays the contract, sometimes badly. I do not see the point of this. You may find yourself playing “hideous hog” style (Victor Mollo’s character who always tried to play the contract) as it is painful reaching a good contract but watching the bot throw it away.

Bridgebase is free to play, though there are subscription options online to get some extra features.

Bridge Baron is available for Android, iPad, iPhone, Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook. It is inexpensive (£13.99 currently on the App Store) but you have to pay separately for each platform. Unlike the other two games, Bridge Baron runs entirely on your device, which is good if you are offline, but means you do not compare your score against other humans. You can set the standard from novice to advanced.

Bridge Baron plays well enough to be fun, though well short of the best computer players. You can replay games at will. You can compare your score against the Baron’s score, review the bidding and play, and undo your play at will. You can also ask for a hint from the Baron.

The Bridge Baron user interface is basic, a little worse than Bridgebase (though faster) and much worse than Funbridge. I do not know why the card icons are so small; it is like playing on a huge table.


Still, good fun and good value.


All three of these games have something to commend them. Funbridge for the best user interface and a standard good enough to be enjoyable despite a few eccentricities. Bridgebase for the option to play with real people, and for free play with bots. Bridge Baron for playing offline.

On the other hand, Bridgebase is spoilt by the poor play of its bots. Bridge Baron is dull because you cannot compare your score with other humans. Funbridge is the one I choose if I have some deals available, but can get expensive if you play a lot, and you will get annoyed with your computer partner from time to time.

There is nothing on a tablet that comes close to Jack Bridge for standard of play.

Finally, note there is no bridge app for Windows RT. So if you are a bridge addict with a Surface RT, you are out of luck.

Microsoft financials: record revenue, signs of Windows 8 concern

Yesterday Microsoft released its financial figures for the last three months of 2012.

Quarter ending December 31st 2012 vs quarter ending December 31st 2011, $millions

Segment Revenue Change Profit Change
Client (Windows + Live) 5881 +1140 3296 +416
Server and Tools 5186 +171 2121 +409
Online 869 +85 -283 +176
Business (Office) 5691 -619 3565 -623
Entertainment and devices 3772 -466 596 +79

Although Microsoft reported record revenue, I do not consider these figures all that revealing. The transcript of the earnings call is more to the point. A few notable remarks from CFO Peter Klein and General Manager Investor Relations Chris Suh

  • 60 million Windows 8 licenses sold and 100 million apps downloaded. At 1.66 apps per license that shows lack of interest in the new Windows Store and raises suspicions that some of those sales may actually be downgraded to Windows 7. The remarks from Klein confirm that the new platform is off to a slow start:

It’s early days and an ambitious endeavor like this takes time. Together with our partners, we remain focused on fully delivering the promise of Windows 8.

While the number of apps in the Windows Store has quadrupled since launch, we clearly have more work to do. We need more rich, immersive apps that give users’ access to content that informs, entertains and inspires.

  • Suh states that Windows is selling better to businesses than consumers. Declining interest from consumers is obvious if you walk around a few retailers selling Windows PCs:

Within the x86 PC market, we saw similar trends to prior quarters, with emerging markets outperforming developed markets, and business outperforming consumer. The consumer segment was most impacted by the ecosystem transition, as demand exceeded the limited assortment of touch devices available.

  • System Center 18% revenue growth
  • SQL Server revenue 16% growth
  • Online revenue (this is Bing not Azure) up 11%
  • Windows Phone sales 4 times higher than last year
  • Skype calls up 59%

The company says little about Office 365 and Azure, but my perception is that both are growing fast though how significant they are versus traditional software license sales is less clear.

Trouble ahead? With Windows 8 struggling for acceptance, Office under threat from online and device alternatives, the games console business (overall not just Microsoft) probably in permanent decline, and Windows Phone not yet quite mainstream, you would think so. On the other hand, this is a company with a broad and deep product range and looking at the solid performance of the server products and continuing strength of Windows and Office in business, we may continue to be surprised at its resilience.

Why is Windows 8 not selling better?

The Register reports a rumoured blame game playing out between Microsoft and its OEM partners concerning why Windows 8 sales have not taken off in the hoped-for manner.

A separate source at a major Windows 8 PC maker confirmed frustration is simmering inside Microsoft, and the blame is settling on PC makers. He said [Microsoft] "is pinning the blame on the manufacturers for not having enough touch-based product".

PC makers on the other hand:

PC makers, though, are hitting back after Redmond’s finger-pointing – countering that if they’d followed Microsoft’s advice they’d have ended up building very expensive tablets and would have been saddled with the costs of a huge piles of unsold units. Those who did buy Windows 8 PCs ultimately bought the cheap laptops not high-end Ultrabooks or hybrids.

This is a silly discussion. I agree that not enough tablets were available at launch. On the other hand, the OEMs are correct: the market for high-end expensive hybrids is limited, and rightly so as they are not good value for most users.

What both sides seem to be ignoring is that Windows 8 was always going to be a hard sell. Microsoft made a conscious and deliberate decision to create a new tablet platform and bolt it on to desktop Windows in order to establish it. The added value for users who just want to run Office and other desktop apps is small, while the cost in terms of learning to find your way around a new Start screen is significant.

This could yet work out well for Microsoft. As the platform matures and better new-style apps appear, Windows 8 will become more attractive. Further, as users discover that Windows 8 is not really hard to use, the reasons not to upgrade will diminish. In theory, users will gradually be able to spend more time in the touch-friendly user interface rather than in the desktop, making pure tablet use of Windows 8 (no keyboard or mouse) more attractive.

The counter-argument is that Windows may never shake off its desktop inheritance and that the Metro-style platform will never be important.

Maybe Microsoft should have communicated "let’s have a low-key launch and build this slowly" rather than spending big on marketing in the hope that nobody would notice these issues.

It is true that there are big and long-standing problems with the way Windows machines are designed, built and marketed, problems that have caused Microsoft to create its own Surface devices (I am typing this on Surface RT) and to copy Apple by opening its own stores, selling "signature" PCs with third-party rubbish removed.

In addition, Microsoft made inexplicable mistakes with the launch of Windows 8 and Windows RT, such as building a mail app that is barely competent – one app that almost everyone will try and which could have been used to show off the potential of the new platform. Check the reviews; there is even something odd about the few five-star ratings.

That does not mean that the subdued launch of Windows 8 is mainly Microsoft’s fault, or mainly the fault of its partners. The reasons are more obvious and more fundamental.

RØDE Mic: High quality recording with iPhone or iPad

Interested in high resolution recording with an iOS device? It may be worth checking out the RØDE iXY which for $199 gets you a pair of cardiod capsule microphones which attach to the docking port on your iPad or iPhone (note that you will be holding your device upside down though it hardly matters).


Using the associated app you can record at 24-bit/96Khz – good enough to allow some further processing while retaining high quality.

Suggested uses are recording concerts, broadcasting, or attaching to a camera for video with superior sound (though it might be easier to use a conventional external microphone).

Currently I travel with a separate device for recording so something like this is interesting. On the other hand, the recorder I use is small and light, the batteries last for days, and I can plug in any external microphone or use the one built-in. Still, an advantage of the RØDE iXY approach is that you get to use a lovely colour app for recording, and have one less device to keep charged up on the road.

Last minute offer: attend BlackBerry Jam Europe in Amsterdam for half price or even free

At the end of January RIM is launching BlackBerry 10 in a now-or-never moment for the company. The new smartphone, based on the QNX embedded operating system, has distinctive features that just might win it a foothold in a crowded market dominated by Apple iOS and Google Android.


If you are developing for BlackBerry or thinking of doing so, it is worth attending one of RIMs developer events, and coming up in a couple of weeks is BlackBerry Jam Europe, which I imagine will be buzzing thanks to the launch of new devices. The event is in Amsterdam and runs on 5th-6th February.

The normal cost for new attendees is €300 but if you use the following code you can register for half price:


This is limited to 20 registrations so be quick! I am not sure if it also works on the alumni registration offer price but it is worth a try.

If even that is a stretch, we also have a pair of free passes to give away. Email me tim (at) itwriting . com today 23 Jan with a paragraph on “Why bother with BlackBerry” and the best entry gets the code at the end of today. Only condition is that you give permission to have your comments posted here.