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Multicore on Steroids? This Startup Hopes So

Memo to Eclipse, IBM , and Microsoft : a new application development platform is moving in with multi-core ambitions.

PeakStream emerged from stealth mode today, unveiling a new breed of software development platform to help high-performance computing (HPC) applications run better on multi-core chips and graphics processors.

Vendors such as Intel , AMD  and Sun Microsystems  are blazing new trails in multi-core chipmaking, which features several processing engines on one piece of silicon.

But there isn't any software designed to really leverage multi-core or graphical processing unit strengths for HPC, said Michael Mullany, vice president of marketing for the Redwood City, Calif., startup.

"What's going to happen if people don't change their applications, is that if you take a 2004 era standard high-performance computing application and run it at a 2010 chip with 32 cores, you're only going to run at a maximum of one-thrity-second of that processor's capability," Mullany said.

"Fundamentally, you need to change the applications so they can take advantage of all these cores coming on the market."

The PeakStream software relies on an approach called stream programming to help programmers write more suitable applications for multi-core chips, graphics processor units (GPUs) and Cell processors, Mullany explained.

Mullany said the core technology of the platform is the PeakStream Virtual Machine, which sits between the application and the operating system and hardware.

"It's kind of like an application server for high-performance computing in the way that [BEA Systems'] WebLogic is a Java application server for enterprise computing and Web-based applications."

Once developers learn the application programming interface (API) , which resembles Fortran Intrinsics, Intel's math kernel libraries, or C++ math templates, they should be able to build applications faster with the same development tools they currently use.

Moreover, the PeakStream Platform builds on the GDB Linux and Visual Studio debugging and profiling tools, allowing the user to inspect data resident on the GPU or on the Cell processor.

Some probable projects for developers of HPC applications, include national defense research, gene sequencing, protein folding and seismic simulations.

It's a large market. IDC said the HPC market grew some 24 percent in 2005 to top $9.2 billion.

Currently, there is no such program in the market, but Mullany said he expects both commercial and open source competition because "within 4 or 5 years, you will have to use a platform like this if you want to be a competent programmer."

The PeakStream Platform runs best on an Intel or AMD Opteron workstations and servers equipped with a supported GPU from Nvidia, ATI or others. General availability is scheduled for the fourth quarter this year, with pricing available at that time.

PeakStream was formed in February 2005 based on Stanford University's Brook Project on stream programming, which originally attacked the problem of taking a graphics processor, which is a 48-core multi-core chip, and convert it into a co-processor for HPC calculations.

The startup, which today also closed a $17 million round of financing from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Sequoia Capital and Foundation Capital, has a varied pedigree.

Mullany hails from VMware, while PeakStream CEO Neil Knox cut his teeth in the volume server group at at Sun Microsystems. Other executives joined from Nvidia, Intel, Transmeta and Network Appliance.