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Orion Debuts Cluster Workstation

Orion Multisystems, a new company founded by former Transmeta executives, debuted a family of workstations Monday that think and act like a cluster of servers.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company introduced two Linux systems based on Transmeta's Efficeon processors -- a desktop and a mini tower. Officials said its desktop model is a single-system board consisting of 12 nodes that can scale up to 96 nodes using eight interconnected boards. Unlike traditional backroom clusters that require setting up huge banks of servers, minimal configuration is required to immediately run all cluster applications.

Colin Hunter, president and CEO, and Ed Kelly, vice president of engineering, founded Orion Multisystems in 2003 with funding from venture capital firms.

"We already have strong demand for our Cluster Workstations from major corporations and institutions in a variety of industries," said Hunter. "We expect to take full advantage of the multi-billion dollar business opportunity that exists for high-performance technical computing."

Most current cluster installations are ad hoc systems that don't adhere to standard architectures or binary application footprints. Orion's team said it has an advantage by using the low-power, x86-compatible Efficeon processors to be able to get the boards close together without too much heat.

In addition to its standard parallel programming libraries, Orion's machines are pre-installed with iNquiry software, a suite of more than 200 applications for life science researchers. The Cluster Workstation also includes other clustering components, such as Message Passing Interface, Parallel Virtual Machine, and the Sun ONE Grid engine. Because it runs on Linux, the company said existing Linux cluster software runs on Orion Cluster Workstation without modification.

Orion's DS-96 deskside Cluster Workstation has 96 nodes and claims 300 gigaflops (Gflops) peak performance (150 Gflops sustained) with up to 192 gigabytes of memory and up to 9.6 terabytes of storage. The company said it consumes less than 1500 watts and fits unobtrusively under a desk.

The DT-12 desktop Cluster Workstation has 12 nodes with 36 Gflops peak performance (18 Gflops sustained), up to 24 gigabytes of DDR SDRAM memory and up to 1 terabyte of internal disk storage. The DT-12 consumes less than 220 watts and can scale to 48 nodes by stacking up to four systems.

The desktop model is less than $10,000 and will be available October 1. The deskside model is less than $100,000 and will be available during the latter part of the fourth quarter.

Hunter and Kelly said they picked Flextronics to manufacture their systems, which boot with the push of a button and have the look, feel and ease-of-use of a personal computer.

Orion also announced a partnership to pre-install gridMathematica from Wolfram Research, a pioneer in modern technical computing, in the Cluster Workstation. Orion said the software will help its users set up and run large calculations with a high-level programming language, a vast collection of mathematical algorithms and parallel programming constructs.

"The new Orion Cluster Workstations have the capability to significantly increase productivity in our research center, because we acquire gigabytes of imaging data per hour, and there is a continuous backlog of jobs awaiting completion by our shared, high-performance computing resource," said Ben Inglis, associate research physicist, Henry H. Wheeler, Jr., Brain Imaging Center at the University of California, Berkeley. "The processing of these massive data sets has become a determining factor for our research progress."