SiCortex's model is ideal for many applications that require parallel processing, McCartney says. A 5832 might be useful for designers of animated films, who need to render millions of frames, he speculates. At Purdue, researchers in computational fluid dynamics are using the SiCortex for research on jet engines.
But applications that require huge amounts of sequential calculations would not be ideal for a SiCortex system, McCartney says.
"It's a niche machine," he says. "It's not for all types of high-performance computing. It's an awful lot of very slow processors. [That's good] if you can chop your jobs up into bite-sized pieces. If you can only use one processor at a time, this thing's going to be horrible. You've really got to be able to chop your job up so you can use a couple hundred processors simultaneously."
If the SiCortex model does fit your computing needs, it brings great benefits in terms of power and cooling. If not for SiCortex, McCartney says he would need to buy additional cooling equipment and transformer capacity in order to substantially increase his computing power.
"To put in a couple million dollar machine, I have to spend at least another two or three million on infrastructure that doesn't do anything for me compute-wise," he says. "In fact, it just increases my electricity bill."
In addition to Purdue, SiCortex's customer base includes NASA, the Department of Energy's Argonne National Lab, an unnamed intelligence agency within the Department of Defense, General Electric and various other universities including Yale and Columbia.
Sales have included about 10 SC5832s, and about 20 mid-range machines, including the SC1458 and a 648-processor model that was discontinued. About half of the sales were desktop machines, on which customers can develop applications for use on the larger SiCortex systems.
While the systems are mostly in research settings today, the men behind SiCortex don't see any reason to limit its reach. Like almost every IT vendor, SiCortex is examining the current fascination with cloud computing, and says its own architecture can help with the database acceleration, searching and caching necessary to make the Web go faster. The SC5832 holds up to 8TB of RAM and every processor can get to that large amount of memory pretty quickly, Goodhue says.
For now SiCortex officials say they are having success selling to organizations that are facing strict power limits and must find some way to get more out of their computing infrastructure.
Your typical IT manager may not have to worry about the power bill, but as Reilly says, "there are people out there for whom the energy-per-answer is the key."
Network World is an InfoWorld affiliate