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Cray nabs PathScale compilers from SiCortex

Plans open source release for journeyman code

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Upstart supercomputer maker SiCortex today sold its PathScale compilers to rival Cray for an undisclosed sum, as its backers try to recoup some of the money they pumped into the struggling HPC company. This marks the second time in recent months that Cray has benefited from the demise of its peers.

As El Reg reported in May, SiCortex had hired intellectual property managers Gerbsman Partners to sell its assets. Through May, SiCortex had sold 75 systems and business was picking up, but apparently not enough to make the company's venture partners - Hercules Technology Growth Capital, Flagship Ventures, Polaris Ventures, Prism VentureWorks, JK&B Capital, and Chevron Technology Ventures, who have pumped $68.1m into the company - happy. Hence the asset sales. Executives at SiCortex - which makes an energy-efficient, MIPS-based, massively parallel Linux super with 5,832 cores and rated at 8.1 teraflops - have refused to comment on the asset sales or the state of its business.

The PathScale compilers, which include C, C++, and Fortran, have been tuned for x64 and MIPS chips and have bounced around a bit in recent years. SiCortex didn't create the PathScale compilers, but rather acquired them in August 2007 from QLogic, a maker of Fibre Channel and InfiniBand host busses. QLogic had bought PathScale for its expertise with the InfiniBand protocol and its host channel adapters, in order to build out its storage area network capabilities. QLogic ponied up $109m in February 2006 for all of PathScale and got the compilers as part of the set.

PathScale was founded in 2001 by Scott Metcalf, who did a stint at Sun Microsystems after selling HAL Computers, a maker of clone Sparc systems, to Fujitsu in 1993. PathScale sought to create an HPC stack based on InfiniBand, with compilers tuned to take advantage of it, the Linux operating system and a tuned MPI stack.

Cray and SiCortex did not disclose what Cray paid to get its hands on the PathScale EKO compiler suite. But Cray did say that over time it will use the smarts inside the PathScale compilers to beef up its own Cray Compiler Environment (CCE) for its XT line of parallel Opteron-Linux supers.

Cray says that the Portland Group is still the main compiler partner for Cray boxes and that the PGI Server C, C++, and Fortran set for Linux are intended to be the primary compilers to be used on XT boxes. The Cray CCE and PathScale EKO compilers are for special situations where the tunings done by Cray and SiCortex are needed for performance reasons on specific workloads running on the XT supers. Peter Ungaro said that Cray bought the PathScale assets not so much to control and sell the compilers, but to give customers already using PathScale's compilers on XT iron assurances that they would be able to continue to do so.

Cray is also taking portions of the PathScale EKO compilers open source through an alliance of Unix and Linux developers called NetSyncro, and a team of PathScale engineers, who plan to create a standalone PathScale compiler company that supports current and future editions of the EKO compilers. Christopher Bergstrom is the chief technology officer of this forthcoming PathScale company, and Fred Chow is engineering director.

Cray has managed to come back from the dead a few times in the past decade, and is now positioned as the counterpoint to IBM at the high-end of the supercomputing racket in the United States. (Uncle Sam likes to have at least two sources of major supers at any given time, and three if the industry can support it.)

In May, just as SiCortex was starting its asset sale, Cray was able to hire Duncan Roweth, one of the founders of British parallel supercomputer switch interconnect maker Quadrics, which announced a few weeks later that it was shutting down. ®

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