June 15, 2007
At supercomputing events, the focus in the media is often on large companies, their latest products and their share of the market. The smaller companies and their contribution to product innovation are often ignored in the melee. This year I decided to try and redress the balance a little.
Christopher Lazou: Anders, it's good that you can spare some time to talk to me. As chief executive officer (CEO) of Mitrionics Inc., a company providing ease of use software technology for FPGA supercomputing, you must be an extremely busy man. Let's briefly discuss what is needed to become successful in the HPC space and in the process try to gain some insight into your views concerning FPGAs in future HPC systems.
Why don't you start by telling us who you are and what made you start Mitrionics?
Anders Dellson: Mitrionics Inc. is a Swedish company founded by Stefan Möhl and Pontus Borg, in 2001. I joined the company the year after. When we started, we knew there was a demand for more computing power. We could see then that there was a business opening in this exciting new field of FPGA supercomputing and that more users could benefit from FPGA performance if they were empowered by using a software centric approach when programming the FPGA devices. We came up with a solution that is a massively parallel processor that gets instantiated in FPGA chips. We called our product the Mitrion Virtual Processor. In the last few years, we have found that FPGAs are becoming more widely adopted and the market for our product is growing stronger.
Lazou: How did you and the cofounders of Mitrionics go about financing your vision?
Dellson: We got about $1 million U.S. in 2002 in seed financing from two venture capital (VC) firms, one of them being TeknoSeed, who still owns a part of the company. With that money we completed our first prototype product and got the first pilot customer signed up. Early in 2005, we got $3 million U.S. in VC financing from Creandum, Teknoinvest and TeknoSeed. With that money we focused building up our sales and marketing organization and bringing more customers in. We also developed our turnkey system, initiated the Mitrion-C Open Bio-Project and developed the BLAST-n application. I think that this helped us in attracting the $6 million in financing we received last month, from Grande Ventures, Creandum and Teknoinvest.
Lazou: As we all know HPC is a fast changing field, risky and strewn with failed start-up companies. After six years you are going from strength to strength, so what is the secret of your success?
Dellson: I think the fact that we have had customers giving feedback at a very early stage. We have also been very active in the U.S. market where the largest HPC systems are located, participated in different industry events, etc. In addition, we have great industry partners for example SGI, Cray, DRC and Xilinx. I think the answer is all these reasons together, plus hard work and a strong wish to succeed.
Lazou: The core of your product offering is the Mitrion Virtual Processor, could you explain what 'virtual' in this case means and what it does?
Dellson: The Mitrion Virtual Processor is a processor design. It is massively parallel and configurable. To accelerate an application you re-write the compute intensive parts of your program using our Mitrion-C programming language, which is then compiled into a configuration of the processor and downloaded and run on the target FPGA.
Lazou: You are also talking about FPGAs as enablers of green supercomputing, what exactly do you mean?
Dellson: An important feature of the Mitrion Virtual Processor is the low power consumption compared to regular microprocessors. A typical Mitrion Processor running in a large FPGA consumes a maximum of 25 watts, compared to about 100 watts for a fast microprocessor -- and it can do up to 20 times the workload. For the BLAST-n appliance marketed with SGI, the actual power savings over CPU clusters is 95 percent in a sustained operation. This is fantastic for the customers' bottom line costs and for the environment.
Lazou: Who are Mitrionics' principal industry partners and what does this entail?
Dellson: We have industry relationships with Cray, DRC, Nallatech, SGI, Xilinx and XtremeData. Mitrionics works differently with each company. The Mitrion Platform is ported to systems sold by Cray, SGI and Nallatech. We also cooperate in sales and marketing for our products. The modules from DRC and XtremeData will soon also support Mitrion. With Xilinx we have a different agreement. The Mitrion XL is delivered with Xilinx synthesis, place and route tool kit, thus making it easier for the customer. This is not only done for user ease, but is also about marketing FPGA's as accelerators.
Lazou: What successes have you had to-date?
Dellson: There are two that immediately come to mind. One is when the Mitrion Platform was selected by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, which has the world's largest FPGA supercomputer system based on the Cray XD1. They purchased 36 Mitrion Virtual Processor licenses to accelerate their applications. The second great success was at the supercomputing 2006 show in Tampa, Florida, when Mitrionics and SGI demonstrated an accelerated version of the world's most widely used bioinformatics application, NCBI BLAST, on the Mitrion Virtual Processor and SGI RASC RC100 system. The NCBI BLAST demonstration achieved a 16x performance speedup.
Lazou: What application areas are you concentrating your efforts on?
Dellson: The customer interest in BLAST is huge and it is coming from Europe, the U.S. and from Asia. So I would say that bioinformatics is one of our main focus areas. But we are also looking at suitable applications in other industries with strong potential such as financial, imaging, seismology, and encryption.
Lazou: A sign of success is expansion and Mitrionics is not only hiring new staff in Sweden, but it also started a company in the USA. Could you explain the rationale for this new company?
Dellson: A large share of our business comes from the USA and we need to be able to support them in the best way possible. We have also been able to recruit people with a solid background in the HPC space, which is very valuable to the company at this stage.
Lazou: I understand you are involved in DARPA projects as well as other U.S. defence initiatives. Without revealing any sensitive material do you see a potential for a lot of business in this area?
Dellson: It confirms that we have established ourselves as a major player in the FPGA computing space. We have software development collaboration with Reservoir Laboratories, who were awarded a DARPA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) project titled "Productivity Advancements for Configurable Computing". The project's first phase is for Mitrionics and Reservoir Laboratories to demonstrate productivity enhancements from combining the Mitrionics development platform and Reservoir Laboratories R-Stream compiler.
Lazou: With so much momentum and success in positioning Mitrionics at the centre of the HPC-FPGA evolution, how do you see the development of your software in the near future?
Dellson: Future software developments are to a great extent driven by user needs and the provision of new FPGA hardware. We are working with our industrial partners and plan to enrich the functionality of our products to make porting of applications onto FPGAs even easier.
Lazou: I think we explored a fair number of issues. Thank you Anders, for your time and frank answers. Wishing you all the best for the future and I am sure our readers would find your views very interesting. They also have an opportunity to visit Mitrionics booth at ISC2007, in Dresden so they can talk to your people and of course see a live demonstration of your products in action.
For more information, visit the company website at www.mitrionics.com.
Brands and names are the property of their respective owners. Copyright (C) Christopher Lazou, HiPerCom Consultants, Ltd., UK, June 2007.
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