The Cambrian explosion era: This part of Moore’s law evolution is most interesting/exciting as it simultaneously saw the rise of various companies, categories, technologies, business models and everything in between but more relevant for me personally as it overlapped personally with my professional life /growth. So the impressions left are stronger and deeper.
But, let’s start with a recap of the Moore growth curve and timelines..
This was Internet 1 or Web 1.
CMOS established itself as the dominant. RISC established as the dominant microprocessor architectural model (which was eventually co-opted by x86/CISC), OEM as a category emerged, not just for compute, but for networking (Cisco) and more relevant EMC (Storage).
The creation and formalization of Software (Enterprise and Consumer), Compute, Network and Storage OEMs and connecting all them to create the network effects we see the results today.
In 1985, the 386, 5″ HDD helped accelerate the PC revolution. The Pizza box Sun workstation which later gave way to the 1U server driving the client – server architectural model fueled by the killer micros taking on VAX and IBM 360 to onslaught both the big enterprise technical and commercial computing.
The $75B dollar OEM business we see today was created from $0B by EMC, Cisco, HP, Sun, SGI, IBM and many more.
1991-1995 and later 1999-2003 are two interesting segments of this era.
1991-1995: The emergence of the Mosaic browser was co-incident with creation of Linux to challenge prior proprietary Unix operating systems that eventually led to the creation of the LAMP stack and thus rudimentary version of the ‘cloud stack’, all open source and helped consolidate x86 as x86 caught up with the RISC by late 1990s on performance, MHz marketing, and enterprise RAS capabilities. It was also the beginning of 64 bit computing led by MIPS, SPARC and eventually PPC and x86. But the modern cloud distributed systems design was created by Akamai which was founded in response to a challenged by Tim Berners Lee back in 1995. Its interesting to look back in time to see how technology evolutions like biological evolutions are both a random walk, survival of the fittest and is constrained (in this case) by faster, cheaper, better, more scale.
1998 is interesting looking back – Founding of Google, VMware, Equinix and many more – but today in 2022, Google epitomizes the leading edge of systems, while VMware has followed the Sun trajectory of living breathing for 20 years to get eventually acquired by another company whereas Equinix a real estate company is moving up the value chain to become the switzerland (potentially) the of physical infrastructure.
1998 is interesting from an Intel standpoint. It had won the client side computing, but failed to get significant market share in the enterprise, technical computing but was not the leader in semiconductor logic (it had compatriots in IBM and TI at a minimum).
But rising to the challenge of beating all the RISC vendors, with MHz marketing as an additional weapon, the technology (fab) guys at Intel took it upon to push ahead starting with 0.18 uM (Coppertone) to advance the transistor performance so hard that we at TI (then) and soon IBM felt it was not an economically competitive game to play.
The above chart (not a totally fair chart to compare two different microprocessor design styles with one metric – MHz), still its the best way to highlight what Intel and their fab did back in 1998 to separate the men from the boys, so to speak.
1998 was the beginning of the end of big SMP as witnessed by a 64GB 64 core SPARC SMP selling for $1M (today 64GB is $250 or less) but was the dinosaur (looking back) that had to give way to the rising tide of small 1U distributed system design that was initiated by Akamai, but exploited by Google and eventually everybody doing cloud and SaaS. It was of-course fueled by the emergence of 1G and soon 10G ethernet.
CMOS and multi layer metal (10+) became the norm. Multi-core was it as it nascent stages of creation and evolution. Apple was in the dumps but an iPOD was saving the bacon to eventually paved the way to an Phone and the emergence of ARM, eventuaally Samsung and TSMC as competitive foundries to Intel.
Personally, looking back my technical and professional learning and growth followed the same exponential as Moore’s law (A chart below to show). Starting from 1991 to 2003 – with the single chip SoC microprocessor (industry first and that too in CMOS) to 8 generations of SPARC culminating in the first dual core – spanning from 0.8uM to 90nm (roughly a decade) over a 10 year period.
Pinching myself to be lucky to have been at the right time , right place and right part of the Moore evolution.
This era was ended by dot-com bust and next wave of architectural simplification soon to follow (like RISC did to prior design styles back in 1984).
A few other technology innovations that should not be left out. FN tunneling i.e. Flash as technology was created in the late 1980s but found its way as a consumer portable media storage device (initially with the iPOD) and eventually into the enterprise.
A few notable things in this era.
EDA as a category and industry was formed (left today by Cadence and Synopsys)
OEM model was the dominant business model with licensed software as a business that depended on the OEM hardware. Separation of hardware and software from a business and GTM
Networking as a category as demonstrated by Cisco
Storage as a category as seen with EMC and NetApp with Flash finding its way over a 20 year period as key component of computing.
The browser as the presentation layer and the creation of systems of engagement, systems of intelligence and systems of record as the 3-layers of the enterprise stack.
Broadband witnessed hyper growth and innovcation in DSL, WiFi (OFDM).
It also saw the end of Mini computers (VAX/Digital), BiCMOS, GaAS, ECL/Bipolar, end of Japan’s dominance in memory.
Opensource came to existence to disrupt the prior models of Software distribution
In closing… Intel’s market cap rose and fell like most other dot-com companies.
It was peak Intel by 2003 and that 20 years later is being challenged.