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The 2019 SPEC Presidential Award Winner

Tom Fisher


Tom Fisher



A big mission the second time around

In 2011, Tom Fisher returned to the SPEC Graphics and Workstation Performance Group (SPEC/GWPG) after several years of service in the 1990s. This time, his mission was very specific: To establish the first benchmark to measure all key aspects of workstation performance based on diverse professional applications.

The characteristics of the proposed workstation benchmark were brief, but significant:

  • It would provide a comprehensive measure of total workstation performance — graphics, I/O and CPU.
  • It would not require actual applications to be installed on the user's system.
  • It would be easy to run and could be completed in a few hours.
  • It would run a wide range of real-world applications for the workstation market.

The self-contained benchmark, then known as SPECwpc, made its debut in November 2013. It comprised more than 30 workloads to test CPU, graphics, I/O and memory bandwidth. The tests were divided by application categories that included media and entertainment (3D animation, rendering), product development (CAD/CAM/CAE), life sciences (medical, molecular), financial services, energy, and general operations. Individual scores were generated for each test and a composite score for each category.

Making its mark on the industry

Since its introduction, vendors and users have downloaded more than 10,000 licenses of the SPEC workstation benchmark.

The latest version, SPECworkstation 3, was released in late October 2018. Among the significant new features are a totally redesigned storage workload based on traces of nearly two-dozen applications, and GPU-accelerated workloads based on Luxrender, Caffe, and Folding@Home applications.

"Since the release of SPECwpc 2.0 in November 2015, we've been analyzing every aspect of workstation performance characterized in the benchmark and making improvements across the board," said Fisher at the time of the release. "We think SPECworkstation 3 represents the computing industry's most comprehensive benchmark for measuring performance based on professional workstation applications."

A simple motivation

From the beginning, Fisher was the force behind the SPEC workstation benchmark effort, specifying the methodology, overseeing the development and documentation, and leading the concerted efforts of SPECwpc members that include representatives from AMD, Dell, Fujitsu, HP, Intel, Lenovo, and Nvidia.

His motivation was simple.

"There were no benchmarks available that did a good job of benchmarking workstation performance across a wide range of applications," he says.

"This wasn't a particularly big problem when most workstations had a single CPU and performance was largely dictated by processor frequency. As multi-core processors with more complicated architectures became the norm, measuring performance across a wide range of applications and across multiple system components became critical for customers trying to determine how much workstation to buy."

The value of relationships

As with all benchmark-building efforts within SPEC, the workstation performance characterization subcommittee thrives on collaboration.

Fisher acknowledges learning continuously from working with other vendors and users who care passionately about performance measurement.

"I've learned a lot over the years working with SPEC/GWPG. I realized just how much customers care about SPEC benchmarks, and I learned more about how to negotiate, persuade and work effectively alongside suppliers and competitors.

"I understand more than ever that my competitors have really smart people working for them too. Best of all, I've developed long-lasting relationships that go well beyond work."

An indelible imprint

At the end of 2018, Tom Fisher moved on to new challenges, but his imprint on workstation benchmarking is indelible.

"Without Tom Fisher's foresight, wisdom, experience and pragmatism, there would be no SPEC workstation benchmark," says Alex Shows, current SPECwpc chair. "The very genesis of this great benchmark is owed to Tom, and the entire workstation industry is better because of it."

Read the 2017 interview with Tom Fisher.