Programming is a sought after skill in GIS, but traditional programming (also called serial programming) only uses one processing core. Modern desktop computers, laptops, and even cellphones now have multiple processing cores, which can be used simultaneously to increase processing capabilities for a range of GIS applications. Parallel programming is a type of programming that involves using multiple processing cores simultaneously to solve a problem, which enables GIS applications to leverage more of the processing power on modern computing architectures ranging from desktop computers to supercomputers. Advanced parallel programming can leverage hundreds and thousands of cores on high-performance computing resources to process big spatial datasets or run complex spatial models.
Parallel programming is both a science and an art. While there are methods and principles that apply to parallel programming--when, how, and why certain methods are applied over others in a specific GIS application remains more of an art than a science. The following sections introduce the concept of parallel programming and discuss how to parallelize a spatial problem and measure parallel performance.