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Orion pulls the plug on deskside cluster op

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Microsoft chairman Bill Gates will have to wait a little bit longer for his personal supercomputer. The main company driving such a product - Orion Multisystems - has shut down, The Register can confirm.

Orion stood as one of the more interesting Silicon Valley hardware start-ups. It pioneered the market for compact, deskside clusters that give engineers and scientists direct access to supercomputer levels of horsepower. Many saw this approach as an updated take on the computing revolution caused by Sun Microsystems's first workstation some 25 years ago.

Chairman Bill was so impressed with the idea that he called for an Orion-style box under every desk at last year's Supercomputing conference.

"What we see as a key trend here is that we will have supercomputers of all sizes, including ones that will cost less than $10,000 and be able to sit at your desk or in a department," Gates said.

Many of the executives at Orion came from Transmeta, and the company insisted on sticking with Transmeta's low-power chips in its Linux clusters. While questionable to begin with, this strategy proved even tougher to sell as Transmeta pulled away from chip production. In addition, customers seemed to struggle with the idea of having Transmeta chips in their servers, preferring a laptop part from Intel or AMD.

Orion enjoyed plenty of favourable press here and elsewhere, and its idea caught on with other hardware makers. Penguin Computing, for example, makes a personal cluster that is similar in theory to Orion's systems. Orion, however, made a sleeker, more refined system that looked and felt like a PC. Last August, Orion canned 30 per cent of its staff and started hunting for more venture funding. Its closure two weeks ago would seem to indicate the funding never arrived.

Orion officials declined to return our phone calls seeking comment.

We have little doubt that the personal cluster idea will live outside of Orion. Engineers want their horsepower, and someone will give it to them. ®

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