Startup Of The Week: Convey Computer

Nov 28, 2008 (07:11 PM EST)

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For years, high-performance computing has mixed the mundane and the arcane--commodity microprocessors with specialized coprocessors--to bring speed to processing-intensive computing tasks. Convey Computer's just-introduced HC-1 server aims to deliver supercomputer-class power and performance while masking programming complexity.
--John Foley


Steve Wallach, co-founder and chief scientist

Wallach makes a comeback

HEADQUARTERS: Richardson, Texas

PRODUCT: Convey HC-1 hybrid-core computer

PRINCIPALS: Bruce Toal, co-founder and CEO; Steve Wallach, co-founder and chief scientist; Tony Brewer, co-founder and CTO

INVESTORS: CenterPoint Ventures, Intel Capital, InterWest Partners, Rho Ventures, Xilinx

EARLY CUSTOMERS: University of California, San Diego

Convey Computer has street credibility, even before its first product has shipped. The company's co-founders are the same team behind supercomputer vendor Convex Computer, launched in 1982 and acquired by Hewlett-Packard in 1995. Last month, chief scientist Wallach was awarded the IEEE's Seymour Cray Computer Science and Engineering Award.

The HC-1's "hybrid-core" design combines an Intel Xeon processor, standard Intel chipset, and Convey-engineered coprocessor in a 2U server. The coprocessor's instructions appear as x86 extensions, and the system's C, C++, and Fortran development environment generates code for the Intel chip and the coprocessor simultaneously for easier programming. Convey is developing task-specific instruction sets, or "personalities," for different industries, and a personality development kit is available.

Based on an estimated 10 times performance boost, the HC-1 would lower power and cooling costs by 84% and floor space requirements by 83%, according to the company.

Not everyone needs a supercomputer, but for companies that do, Convey is an interesting alternative. The company touts programming ease and price/performance as the HC-1's two big selling points, and its starting price of $32,000 sounds attractive for heavy-duty jobs such as disease research, as it's being used by UC San Diego. Of course, all computer vendors claim to offer ease of use and lower price, and Convey's claims need to be validated. The HC-1 is slated to debut in the second quarter of 2009.