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Orion Workstation Strength Gets Personal

Silicon Valley start-up Orion Multisystems this week shipped its first workstation, which runs like it were 96 individual computers, or nodes, all working on the same project.

Called Orion DS-96 and touted as a personal supercomputer that fits under a desk, the 96-node cluster workstation stands 27 inches high, 25 inches long and 17 inches wide and is stackable up to four systems.

Each DS-96 system is based on eight Orion Processor Array boards, with each board comprised of 12 individual nodes on a private network. The company said each node is a fully functional computer with its own chipset, memory and x86 Transmeta processor, so there is no need for special cooling requirements. In fact, a computer has a maximum power draw of just 1500 watts from a standard power outlet.

The computer is designed to run Linux and includes a dual 10-GigE fiber card and a 12-port GigE switch for ultra high bandwidth and massive data needs.

The units also ship with a DVD/CD-RW drive and one 3.5" hard drive on the head node. The board can accommodate one 2.5" hard-disk drive per node on an optional basis.

Orion execs claim the DS-96 can achieve 300 gigaflops (Gflops) peak performance (150 Gflops sustained) with up to 192 gigabytes of memory and up to 9.6 terabytes of storage.

"The 96-node system is the one that will define our company's vision of personal supercomputing going forward," Orion spokesperson Phillip Bergman told internetnews.com. "We'll also be making a push into key European markets, where we've had strong customer interest and are already shipping systems to several countries."

Target Finders, an oil industry consulting company based in the U.K., is the fruit of such efforts Bergman said.

In addition, orders from U.S. institutions such as NASA, San Diego State University, the Henry H. Wheeler, Jr. Brain Imaging Center at U.C. Berkeley, and the University of Nebraska have already filled their orders and tested their systems.

"Having a cluster available at your desk as an individual resource, rather than a shared one down the hall, fosters a more interactive experience," Jim Lux, senior member of the engineering staff at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement.

Orion's machines are pre-installed with standard parallel programming libraries and iNquiry software, a suite of more than 200 applications for life science researchers. The workstations also include other clustering components, such as Message Passing Interface and Parallel Virtual Machine.

The DS-96 launch follows a successful introduction last year of Orion's 12-node desktop Cluster Workstation, a system now in use in multiple countries and market segments.

"Just as high-performance clusters of smaller servers have joined monolithic mainframes, server clusters are beginning to gain client-side analogues," Stacey Quandt, senior business analyst and open source practice leader at IT research firm Robert Francis Group, said in a statement. "Such systems, if configured and deployed effectively, can deliver new computing options and enable more and new business benefits at many enterprises."