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Summer 2013 interns at HP Labs – Mingyu Gao



Contributed by Simon Firth, freelance technology journalist


Editor's note: This is the last in our series of profiles of summer 2013 interns at HP Labs.


Mingyu Gao has just completed his first year at Stanford University, working towards a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering where his focus is computer hardware design. Gao grew up in the city of Shijiazhuang in China’s north eastern province of Hebei before studying at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, from which he received a bachelors degree in Electrical Engineering. When he’s not working, Gao enjoys movies, traveling and socializing with friends as much as he can.


HP: What’s your project this summer?

At Stanford, I’m interested in designing memory systems that are both high performance and energy efficient. I’m doing something very similar here, in the Systems Research Lab. We’re exploring how to improve memory systems for data centers. It’s mainly a hardware project, but it also has some software components.


HP: What’s the challenge that you are trying to address?

Currently, memory systems in data centers consume a lot of energy – traditionally it had been the CPU that accounted for the most energy use, but that’s been shifting. Also, data centers face issues with latency and bandwidth as they move data into and out of the memory part of the system, which limits overall system performance. As a result, data centers don’t run data-heavy workloads, which require a lot of traffic between the memory and CPU, as fast or efficiently as they could. We’re trying to solve this problem by creating a high-bandwidth, low-latency memory system. At the same time, we don’t want to consume a lot of power, so we’re using both high performance and low energy use as our design goals. 


HP: How’s it going?

Well, the first step has been to study some of the workloads that we need to move around. If we understand their characteristics better, we can design the hardware to better match them. We’ve been doing that with both open source and HP-focused workloads – that way we can make a contribution both to the wider research community and HP’s own businesses. Now, we’re beginning to redesign the memory systems to match those workloads more efficiently and once we have some designs in place, we’ll evaluate their performance to see what improvements we’ve been able to make.


HP: What have you enjoyed about working at Labs?

This is my first internship in the US and I really like the environment. It’s very collaborative, and people are very willing to share ideas and advice.  All the pressure comes from your own expectations for your work, which makes it much less stressful than it might otherwise be!


HP: Do you think you might want to work in a research lab one day?

My dream is to become an academic, but now that I’m here I’m thinking that it would be fine to be a researcher in an industrial lab. It’s certainly been great to be working on problems that are close to industry. I like working on both theoretical and realistic problems. But first I have to get my Ph.D.!


HP: How did you get interested in your field?

In high school I was mainly interested in physics. Then in college, I wanted to try some different things and was looking for something less theoretical. So I moved into engineering and ended up majoring in electronic engineering. My mother is an electrical engineer and warned me that it’s a lot of work. But I was interested in seeing what it’s like, and it turned out that I really enjoy it.


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