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Startup crafts 58-Gflops computer

Posted: 06 Nov 2003 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:supercomputing conference? octigabay systems? x86? processor? opteron cpu?

On the eve of the Supercomputing Conference 2003, to be held Nov. 15-21 in Phoenix, startup OctigaBay Systems Corp. will introduce a high-performance computer that melds off-the-shelf X86 processors with internally developed high-speed interconnect and reconfigurable-computing subsystems. The Canadian company aims to outperform large symmetric-multiprocessing clusters at a lower cost, but could face tough competition from emerging server blade offerings.

The OctigaBay 12K system packs up to twelve 2.4GHz Opteron CPUs from Advanced Micro Devices Inc. into a 3U chassis along with the company's own terabit/second class switch, an 8GBps maximum fabric with latency as low as 1.2ms between CPU operations. As many as 1,000 of the 58-Gflops units can be interconnected to create a 60-Tflops system with latencies of 150ns to 200ns per box-to-box hop.

The company, which is based in Burnaby, British Columbia, claims it is creating a new category of computers that break through performance limits in today's clustered systems of commodity microprocessors by opening up a bottleneck in systems I/O. Rather than using external Gigabit Ethernet switches to link multiple systems, OctigaBay has implemented in Xilinx Inc.'s Virtex II Pro FPGAs an internal system switch that allows separate systems to make native high-bandwidth, low-latency connections. "We don't expect this to be the only product in this category, but it certainly is the first," said CTO Paul Terry.

The systems are expected to be in field trials next year with as many as a dozen test users, including Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories and a national genome research center. "We're targeting simulation applications in multiple market sectors," said Steven Joachims, VP of business development at OctigaBay.

Mark Seager, an assistant director for advanced technologies at Lawrence Livermore, praised the startup's efforts, though he has yet to test its systems. "We've been interacting with them for six to 12 months on their design. They have a reasonable road map [and] funding, and it looks like they could make a go of it," Seager said.

The company will face its closest competition when lower-cost server blades from the likes of Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Sun Microsystems move beyond today's PCI-X to faster, lower-latency interconnects such as PCI Express, Seager added. "The question is, can [OctigaBay] deliver what they claim at price points close enough to full commodity [server blade] systems to create a real benefit? We will have to wait and see because they are not talking about pricing yet," he said.

The government systems researcher said he has yet to investigate OctigaBay's plans for using a second Virtex II Pro FPGA as a reconfigurable processor to accelerate users' custom algorithms.

"OctigaBay has an interesting architecture that stands on its own merits. The FPGAs are something on top of that," he said. "There are several daunting challenges creating a C compiler for an FPGA, and several companies are working on it." Indeed, SRC Computers Inc. is developing an Intel X86-based system that will also offer FPGA-based application acceleration features.

Joachims said OctigaBay's system will sell for "well under $100,000" and offer 50 percent to 100 percent greater performance than competing server blades, which today do not offer the bandwidth and latency required by high-performance computing applications.

International Data Corp. currently pegs the high-performance computing market at about $4.6 billion in annual sales.

OctigaBay's system uses six cards, each including two dual-processor Opterons. Although the AMD chips can be linked into eight-way systems without external logic, OctigaBay found the higher-end CPUs too pricey. "The cost point between two- and four-way [Opteron] CPUs from AMD is horrendous. It's something on the order of 3x as much," said Terry.

Many of the founders of OctigaBay trace their roots to senior management positions in Newbridge Networks Corp. More recently they formed networking startup Abatis Systems and sold it in 2000 to Redback Networks for more than $1B, one of the largest private acquisitions in Canadian history.

OctigaBay closed a $24M venture financing round in January and expects to hire about 50 people in the next year.

- Rick Merritt

EE Times

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