Digital Edition

SYS-CON.TV
Start-up Introduces a Technology First: The Personal Supercomputer
Orion Prepares to Make "Personal Clusters" Available at $10,000 a Pop

Sounds like a good idea. Which immediately makes it suspect. Why hasn't it been done it before?

See, two of Transmeta's co-founders have reinvented the technical workstation, which reached its apogee in the 80s and has been in decline ever since, nibbled to death by Microsoft and the PC.

The twosome set themselves up last year in Santa Clara, California as Orion Multisystems Inc and quietly proceeded to design a completely new kind of box that's actually a "Personal Cluster" or even a "Personal Supercomputer" - a widget that puts 12 nodes in the space of a classic desktop or 96 nodes in a knee-knocking deskside - both configurations playing to the emerging rage for commodity Linux clusters.

And since heat would obviously be the paramount hurdle in such a thing - RISC was never even given a thought - they build it out of - you guessed it - low-power Transmeta Efficeon x86 chips, picked for their power efficiency per watt, the coming new sex symbol.

Right away there's bound to be whining that Transmeta chips were designed for ultra-small notebooks, not clusters, and that any outfit that's used them for anything else has been jinxed.

For its part, poor floundering Transmeta needs to ship every Efficeon chip it can.

Orion president and CEO Colin Hunter, an emulation expert and the guy who was responsible for Transmeta's Code Morphing software, claims he's not married to Transmeta and would have picked an Intel or AMD chip if their heat dissipation could match Efficion's cool.

See, the gating factor was that the Orion box had to plug into a standard wall outlet.

Anyway, the company plans to revisit the issue every six months though it may have to sacrifice density to use another chip.

Orion started on angel funding. And now that it's got betas out with such as the chi-chi National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) and is about to start selling the boxes come the first of October, Battery Ventures has bellied up to the bar with a $6 million investment, the lion's share of a $7 million second round.

With the angel money that makes about $12 million in funding so far.

Hunter won't discuss what he thinks it's going to take to get a new hardware venture off the ground these days, given the hostility to such things, or when Orion might break even or what size company he thinks he can build.

He's pretty confident though that the big OEMs will copy his stuff after they badmouth it for a while - little chance of them reselling it - they'll built their own. And from the tone of his conversation he apparently figures he'll wind up getting bought.

He thinks he's addressing a $2.4 billion HPC departmental market, where 90% of cluster revenues come from.

He figures there are lots of engineering, scientific, financial and creative types who could save a lot of time running their projects on a Personal Cluster rather than waiting in line for their turn at the supercomputer or some motley collection of commodity PCs jerry-rigged into a homebrewed cluster. Hunter figures the Orion boxes are a natural for software development.

As for the difference between the PCs currently being used for workstations and a supercomputer, figure a factor of 1,000.

Orion's Cluster Workstation exploits parallelism, the successor to vector, SMP and massively parallel computing, and relies on standard parallel programming libraries like MPI, PVM and SGE. It's designed as a single computer. There is a single system board consisting of 12 nodes in the desktop model. The deskside model scales to 96 nodes using eight interconnected boards. Nodes are linked by gigabit Ethernet interconnects, boards by 10 gigabit Ethernet.

Both boxes are turnkey; a cluster is supposed to boot in a couple of minutes from a single system image. No special cooling is required. And there are none of the nasty dangling cables that give interior decorators apoplexy.

The 96-node Orion DS-96 deskside is supposed to be good for 300 gigaflops peak performance, 150 Gflops sustained, and can address 192GB of memory and 9.6TB of storage. It consumes no more than 1500 watts, which is about all an outlet can handle.

The DT-12 desktop model is supposed to be good for 36Gflops peak, 18 Gflops sustained, and can address 24GB of DDR SDRAM memory and a terabyte of internal disk storage. It consumes less than 220 watts and can scale to 48 nodes by latching four systems together.

Hunter described a node as being the size of a playing card and including the processor, an Ali chipset, an Intel giagabit Ethernet chip, a 2.5-inch hard drive and a DIMM slot good for 2GB of RAM.

The widgetry, which contract manufacturer Flextronics will be making, is supposed to run existing Linux cluster software without modification. Orion is using Red Hat's freebie Fedora Linux core 2, version 2.6.6 kernel with Orion drivers. There's also 2.4 kernel support.

Oh, yes, and there's a cluster video subsystem that provides cluster rendering on each node. Figure a 10 Gbit/s combining frame buffer with 4x DVI output so what you're got is a graphics workstation.

Latency works out to around 40 microseconds. Orion is already working on a next generation that's supposed to use a custom TCP/IP stack that cuts latency to 15 microseconds.

Orion has priced the desktop at roughly $10,000 and the deskside at around $100,000. The deskside won't be available until later in the fourth quarter.

Orion is still feeling out its distribution options.

It's got some boys selling direct and going after the specialty VARs who service such hot little niches as bioinformics and other medical segments. It's already got a bundling deal with BioTeam, a bio-IT consultant, and they've created the desktop Orion Workstation for Bioinformatics bundled with iNquiry software, a suite of 200 applications for life science researchers.

It's also formed a unique alliance with Wolfram Research to bundle its gridMathematica software on Orions, but how exactly they take those boxes to market is still being working out. Wolfram has never sold hardware before.

Orion is supporting 45 people. Its other co-founders include VP of applications Chris Hipp, whose vision kick started the first blade house RLX Technologies, which came to find out building blades out of Transmeta's Crusoe chip wasn't a starter, as well as VP of engineering Ed Kelly, a pre-IPO Sun Distinguished Engineer credited with the development of the Sun-4, Mbus, SparcStation, 64-bit Sparc and clusters. Linus Torvalds, the father of Linux, worked for Kelly at Transmeta. Wu-Chun Feng, a Los Alamos researcher in efficient computing, high-performance networking and bioinformatics, is Orion's consulting chief scientist.

About Maureen O'Gara
Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

In order to post a comment you need to be registered and logged in.

Register | Sign-in

Reader Feedback: Page 1 of 1



ADS BY GOOGLE
Subscribe to the World's Most Powerful Newsletters

ADS BY GOOGLE

Andi Mann, Chief Technology Advocate at Splunk, is an accomplished digital business executive with e...
A valuable conference experience generates new contacts, sales leads, potential strategic partners a...
Bill Schmarzo, author of "Big Data: Understanding How Data Powers Big Business" and "Big Data MBA: D...
DevOpsSummit New York 2018, colocated with CloudEXPO | DXWorldEXPO New York 2018 will be held Novemb...
DXWorldEXPO LLC announced today that ICOHOLDER named "Media Sponsor" of Miami Blockchain Event by Fi...
@DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo, taking place November 12-13 in New York City, NY, is co-located with 22...
SYS-CON Events announced today that IoT Global Network has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's @...
"We do one of the best file systems in the world. We learned how to deal with Big Data many years ag...
The best way to leverage your Cloud Expo presence as a sponsor and exhibitor is to plan your news an...
Adding public cloud resources to an existing application can be a daunting process. The tools that y...
CloudEXPO New York 2018, colocated with DXWorldEXPO New York 2018 will be held November 11-13, 2018,...
Using new techniques of information modeling, indexing, and processing, new cloud-based systems can ...
Disruption, Innovation, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, Leadership and Management hear...
DXWorldEXPO | CloudEXPO are the world's most influential, independent events where Cloud Computing w...
DXWorldEXPO LLC announced today that Telecom Reseller has been named "Media Sponsor" of CloudEXPO | ...
Enterprises are striving to become digital businesses for differentiated innovation and customer-cen...
Digital Transformation: Preparing Cloud & IoT Security for the Age of Artificial Intelligence. As au...
To Really Work for Enterprises, MultiCloud Adoption Requires Far Better and Inclusive Cloud Monitori...
Consumer-driven contracts are an essential part of a mature microservice testing portfolio enabling ...
DXWordEXPO New York 2018, colocated with CloudEXPO New York 2018 will be held November 11-13, 2018, ...