Worst case, Steve Wallach figures it costs $10,000 to buy a blade server that can execute 50 billion floating point operations in a second. By that measure, it would take $200,000 to buy 20 of the blades, to handle a trillion operations a second in a heavy-duty scientific or financial calculation.
Now, the challenge is make the programmer as powerful as the machine. By Wallach's estimate, a top-flight programmer, now costs around $250,000, fully loaded with benefits and overhead, a year.
Thus, his new startup, Convey Computer, which brings "hybrid" processing and encoded personalities to supercomputing. Nearly three decades ago, Wallach man was the central subject in the Data General minicomputer project enshrined in the Pulitzer Prize-winning Tracy Kidder project, "The Soul of a New Machine." Now it looks like Wallach is trying to put soul into the programming of a new round of supercomputers that start with processors mass-produced by Intel.
The approach is to let programmers strut their stuff in existing languages that are proven to run smoothly on the Intel x86 architecture. Namely, C, C++ and Fortran.
The innovation is to not innovate in programming languages. These are languages that have been used for a long time to program supercomputers. But what Walllach and Convey want to do is make it easy to make the programmer more productive. The programmer just has to write code for the x86 platform. Convey's compiler then translates the code for use with the Convey co-processor that is its half of the "hybrid" processing of instructions.
Its systems will come with "personality development kits,'' to customize high-performance computing for particular needs, such as financial services, oil or gas exploration or biological computing. After all, it's useful to model where toxicity lies ahead of time, when creating new forms of financial instruments or life, itself.
Wallach thinks the Convey approach, which doles out hybrid core computers in $25,000 chunks, can make a programmer 50% more productive. That will make it possible for more companies to afford to hire or keep programmers near to their home base of operations.
Simplicity, plus specialization. That's the real hybrid form of computing that this startup needs to convey.