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Cluster Computing Life After Cray -- Downright Unlimited


He calls them “Cray research ex-patriots.” Steve Oberlin, CEO of Unlimited Scale, a St. Paul, Minn.-based company developing Linux versions for extremely large clusters, was at Cray for 20 years before forming this venture about a year and a half ago.

In fact, all of the people at Unlimited were former Cray employees, hired directly from Cray or from companies they had gone to after leaving Cray. Oberlin was chief architect for the supercomputing company’s T3E, first released in 1996. “So as we started to form Unlimited Scale,” he says, “[we were] essentially looking to replicate the success of the T3E.”

Despite its amibitious goals, the company remains virtually unheard of in the target-customer bioinformatics realm. “We’ve been fairly low-profile until recently,” Oberlin says. “We like to have our I’s dotted and our T’s crossed before we go public with something” — a lesson, he adds, learned from working at Cray.

That’s why it took so long for the company to announce its two major partnerships with Sandia National Laboratories and Compaq. Unlimited’s core technology, called Unlimited Linux, is based on Sandia’s software for clusters with up to 2,500 nodes. “Their user community, which was very large and very demanding, requires a stable, scalable computing environment,” Oberlin says. “[Cplant] is the largest and most scalable high-performance computing environment based on Linux in the world today.” It was so good that Unlimited obtained a commercial license to the technology and is ramping it up to the 10,000-processor scale.

Unlimited’s partnership with Compaq stems from Oberlin and Company’s Cray work, when the T3E was designed using Alpha chips. Continuing the relationship, Compaq made an equity investment, and Unlimited “will be providing optimized versions of our software on Compaq platforms, on the Alpha and their Intel-based systems,” Oberlin says. Compaq is expected to start shipping the product starting first quarter of this year.

— Meredith Salisbury


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