Huawei: What, me worry?

Martyn Warwick
By Martyn Warwick

Apr 16, 2021

via Flickr © Janitors (CC BY 2.0)

via Flickr © Janitors (CC BY 2.0)

  • Battered Chinese company channels Mad's Alfred E. Neuman as it develops alternative to von Neumann architecture
  • "Strategic corporate realignment" focus on computing and microchips
  • Will also centre on software and hardware for intelligent vehicles 
  • Co-operating with manufacturers on design of electric smart cars

Huawei, after a year of Covid-19 and more than a year of global opprobrium and attendant technology bans as western companies tear its equipment from their networks and vow never to buy any more, the Chinese manufacturer has announced what it calls a "strategic corporate realignment" it hopes will get it back on an even keel by shifting the focus away from traditional telecoms and onto the automotive sector/intelligent vehicles and computing.

And while the global hype machine is already cranking into overdrive to produce huge amounts of ephemeral froth about "6G", (whatever and whenever that may turn out to be) Huawei says it will maximise 5G value and continue to drive the development of mobile comms via with its concept of 5.5G!

This, it seems, is "a seamless, user-centric, intelligent experience across all user scenarios" that will provide "billions of  different kinds of connections." In other words it's exactly what all other manufacturers, vendors and service providers say they are providing with good old 5G. What the benefits of that extra half a G is are not immediately apparent but Huawei evidently reckons it's better than no bread.

Speaking at Huawei's 18th Global Analyst Summit, held in Shenzhen this week, Eric Xu, whose corporate designation is 'Deputy Chairman, Rotating Chairman, Huawei', acknowledged reality rather than pretending that everything with the company is hunky-dory and tickety-boo and outlined the immediate strategic objectives in light of its permanent exclusion from and ever-increasing list of telecoms markets, the latest of which, announced this very morning, is Romania. 

From data migration to computer migration

Eric Xu said, "Rebuilding trust and restoring collaboration across the global semiconductor supply chain is crucial to bringing the industry back on track. Moving forward, we will continue to find ourselves in a complex and volatile global environment." Thus Huawei is to lavish attention on software and hardware for intelligent vehicles and, now deprived of access to the latest western chip technology and products, will develop its own and abandon the von Neumann architecture that has served the computing world for generation after generation. 

First described way back in 1945 at Princeton University in the US by the mathematician and physicist John von Neumann, what came to be called the Neumann architecture became the fundamental architecture on which almost all digital computers have been based and has characteristics that have had immense impact on programming languages.

These common characteristics are a single, centralised control based in a central processing unit (CPU) plus a separate storage area or primary memory, that contains both instructions and data. Instructions are executed by the CPU, and must be transferred to it from the primary memory. The CPU is also the site where operations are conducted on the arithmetic and logic unit (ALU) and, again, data has to be moved from the primary memory to the CPU for that to happen. That all takes time,and power resources. The CPU also contains a register bank, a sort of electronic notepad where intermediate results can be stored and referenced more quickly than by to and fro-ing with the primary memory.

Also speaking at the Huawei analyst's event, William Xu, board director and president of the company's Institute of Strategic Research, explained, "Storage capacity and performance are issues that must be addressed for future storage systems. We need to be able to store a lot more data and to get access to it faster. Each problem needs to be addressed separately."

"Firstly we need much higher storage capacity. Capacity density should be 100 times higher than what we currently have. Existing storage media cannot achieve this level due to restrictions surrounding process and power consumption. To overcome the capacity hurdle, we need breakthroughs in new technologies including large-capacity and low-latency in-memory computing technologies, ultra-large capacity media technologies such as DNA storage and high-dimensional optical storage, as well as ultra-large storage space model and coding technologies." DNA storage is the remarkable concept of encoding and decoding binary data onto and from synthesised strands of deoxyribonucleic acid. It sounds like science-fiction but it is not.

Mr. Xu added. "Secondly, we must significantly improve storage performance. As the data access bandwidth of storage systems increases from terabytes to petabytes, access latency drops from milliseconds to microseconds, so we require performance density to increase by 100 times of what we have today. We will not be able to keep up with network performance growth and need to move past the von Neumann architecture and shift away from CPU-centric storage and towards memory- and data-centric storage.”

He also said, significantly, "We also need to focus more on computing migration rather than data migration" which will mean bringing computing processes closer to data, as is the case with computational storage and in-memory computing. In-memory computing is the storage of information in the main random access memory (RAM) of dedicated servers rather than in complex relational databases that operate on disk drives that are comparatively very slow to access. In-memory computing helps the very rapid detection of  patterns, and on-the-fly analysis of massive volumes of data to perform very operations quickly. 

Cars are cars, all over the world

Looking to the automotive sector, Eric Xu that Hauwei has high hopes for and big ambitions in that industry, adding that over the next couple of years the company will invest US$ 1 billion in Chinese vehicle manufacturing companies and has particular interest in autonomous and electric vehicles and the use of in-vehicle AI . He stressed that while Huawei has no plans to become a vehicle manufacturer in its own right  it will "help car companies build good cars" and intends to become a major supplier of digital components to automakers.

Proof of that will come next week when Huawei and the Beijing-based electric vehicle manufacturer BAIC Blue Valley will launch a co-designed electric smart car system called "ARCFOX αS HBT". That's easy enough to write but rather more difficult to speak. According to Huawei the new vehicle will come with 96-line Huawei Lidars (light detection and ranging devices), 6-millimetre wave radar, 12 cameras, 13 ultrasonic radars, a Huawei chip with a computing power of up to 352 Tera operations per second (TOPS). There might also be room for a couple of passengers and a bag of groceries.

Huawei has also been co-operating with BAIC on the integration of smart cars with mobile devices. Huawei recently issued an upgrade to its Harmony operating system (which the company claims to be a viable alternative and competitor to Google's Android OS) that allows drivers to control many of a vehicle's autonomous functions in their vehicles from their cell phones. What could possibly go wrong?

And finally: Always remember: There are 10 types of people in the world. Those who understand binary and those that don't.

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