Why Aren’t There More Startups in HPC?

By Nicole Hemsoth

October 13, 2014

As we watch the mainstream technology world capture attention and garner massive amounts of funding, many are asking why some of the most bleeding edge tech on the planet in high performance computing doesn’t attract the same level of interest. While supercomputing is at the pinnacle of both performance and price in many cases, the technological developments make it an exciting area—one that should bring in far more funding and value.

In an effort to answer these and other questions—as well as to dig into how we can work together to spur this new culture of investment of market attention—there is a new effort which will kick off at SC this coming year. The inaugural event for StartupHPC will be a forum focused on how to become an entrepreneur, with a roster of all-star speakers.  It is held on Monday Nov 17th in New Orleans, where the Supercomputing-14 (SC14) will be this year.

We spoke with Shahin Khan and his team working to create a more vibrant startup culture to get a better sense of what lies ahead and what work needs to be done before HPC can start reaching into the broader mainstream for funding, adoption, and use beyond supercomputing.

Why is HPC a fertile ground for entrepreneurship?

The HPC community has a great track record of leading the creation and adoption of new technologies. 64-bit computing, open systems, scale-up systems, visual computing, hierarchical storage management, scale-out applications, extreme scale systems, parallel file systems, and even web browsers and the worldwide web, all trace their roots to HPC. What a fabulous record of leading the IT industry and some of the most dynamic and transformative technologies in history.

In fact, some of us have always seen HPC is having as much to do with heat-seeking scientists and engineers as it does with high performance numerically intensive or data intensive computing. Certainly as a company serving it, seeing HPC as an early adopter market is very helpful to explain customer requirements and behavior.

This early-adopter nature of HPC is nicely on display when you attend a supercomputing conference. You don’t just see supercomputers, you see everything across the technology spectrum from semiconductors to apps, from mobility to cloud, from graph analytics to streaming big data…

What is the historical trend for startups in the high performance computing world?

There have been several successful companies in HPC. Supercomputer and minisupercomputer companies did very well and while there’s been consolidation, the leaders continue to do very well. We’ve also seen successful interconnect companies, several app vendors, storage specialists, etc. But when it comes to commercialization of promising technologies, HPC punches below its weight. That, we can and should change.

A great example is web browser software, which got its start at NCSA, a supercomputing center, but the companies that took it to market were not HPC companies.  But this is not just a question of mega successes. Even within HPC, there should be many more startups.

Why don’t we see more HPC startups?

A big reason for that, in our view, is that the HPC community does not get training on entrepreneurship. How do you become an entrepreneur? Does it have to be in your blood, or can you actually learn how to do it? It turns out you can learn most of it, and in the process (since nobody is excellent at everything), you also learn how to surround yourself with others who are good at other necessary things.

Another obstacle we see is with technologies that come out of HPC but transcend HPC. Web browsers or 64-bit computing are old examples of those and big data, cognitive computing, cloud computing architecture, and some aspects of social media are very current examples. In such cases, one obstacle is recognizing that the bigger market is very interested in the technology but is not really interested in HPC per se. It uses a different vocabulary than HPC, has different requirements, different buying behavior, etc. But you’re not going to face those challenges if you didn’t form the company to begin with.

I assume StartupHPC is formed to address that?

Exactly. StartupHPC is initially focusing on entrepreneurship training, tapping into an amazing network of experts, and crowdsourcing of how-to experiences.

For existing HPC startups, there is a chasm to be crossed when you extend beyond the HPC market and want to serve the mainstream IT market. StartupHPC community will help with that as well.

You also mention STEM. How do you distinguish between STEM and HPC?

There is a growing recognition in society about the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) as an important foundation for educational systems.

HPC is very much a logical continuation of STEM in the digital world. It applies STEM disciplines to the vast amount of digital data to solve problems: to better understand natural phenomena, to build better products, to gain insight from existing evidence, to better evaluate the ramifications of social policies, etc.

Ideally, we’d also add Arts and Entrepreneurship as necessary ingredients, and we’d highlight the importance of Design, which would bring it all together in just the right way.

Why is this a good time for HPC-inspired startups?

There is really no good reason why there should not be more HPC-inspired companies out there, a lot more. HPC professionals are at the leading edge of their fields and come across inspiring ideas all the time. But two trends are making is easier than ever to take things to the next level and to seriously consider an entrepreneurial plan.

First, forming and leading a technology startup is not as mystifying as it was a few decades ago. There is a vast body of experience and knowledge that is available. Providing access to the best of such expertise and wisdom is an important aim of StartupHPC.

Second, the IT industry is entering a phase where mainstream IT requirements are highly aligned with HPC strengths. As has been covered widely, we have gone from dumb-terminals and mainframes through the client/server phase and now entering the mobile/cloud world. Back-end systems, software, services, and the economic model that supports them are all changing, and they are changing towards what the HPC community is very good at: scale, performance, productivity, and the ability to handle large volumes of data and extract value from it.

How is the startup event in New Orleans shaping up so far? Who should attend?

The event is focused on how you become an entrepreneur with practical advice, discussion, and Q&A together with some of the best minds in this area. The types of topics we’ll cover are: how you build a team, get funded, manage legal issues, determine the right strategy, build a product, find early customers, launch the company, expand, raise additional rounds, etc.

We are truly honored to have such prominent speakers. Their enthusiasm to participate is an indication of how much fun we’re all going to have learning from them and interacting with them.

The forum will be a must-go event for anyone in the HPC community who wants to become an entrepreneur, foster entrepreneurship in HPC and STEM, fund HPC-inspired startups, or simply plug into this important startup community.

Are you charging a registration fee for your event?

Membership in the StartupHPC community is free. Since a 6-7 hour event requires non-trivial costs for the venue, meals, a/v equipment, etc., there is a modest registration fee for the event, which will cover less than 20% of costs. StartupHPC handles the balance.

For future events, in addition to considering short (low cost) meetups, we are also considering sponsorships and annual membership fees for companies to defray costs, and would adjust registration fees accordingly. We are also looking at annual membership fee for some StartupHPC members who might need higher-level services, and that would include free admission to all events. We’ll evaluate all that with the StartupHPC community.

What sort of reception have you received so far?

There has been universal endorsement of the idea and the recognition that it fills an important gap, it doesn’t compete or duplicate any existing effort in HPC, and that it can serve a really valuable purpose to the benefit of the whole HPC community. We gratefully sought, and continue to seek, advice from many: HPC professionals, VCs, Corporate executives, Media, and Founders and CxOs in actual startups.

The event has generated a lot of interest too, registrations are coming in, and we are looking forward to a very high quality gathering. Hope to see you there!

StartupHPC aims to accelerate the creation of STEM- and HPC-inspired startups. It’s first in-person meeting will be held on Monday November 17th at the Royal Sonesta hotel in New Orleans. Learn more at StartupHPC and register here for the event.

StartupHPC is a grass roots community for STEM- and HPC-inspired entrepreneurs, corporations, VCs, and support organizations.  We’ve never had a resource center like it that is focused on and shaped by HPC. By becoming a member, you can register your startup, get expert answers to your questions, get recommendations on resources and suppliers, and generally accelerate your progress from shaping the original idea, to building a team, getting funded, creating a product, launching the company, etc. If you are a company, you can gain first-hand knowledge of HPC startups out there and what their needs are so you can craft more attractive services for them. And what better place to frequent if you are a VC and want to tap into the leading edge of STEM-oriented innovation.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

A Beginner’s Guide to the ASC19 Finals

April 22, 2019

Three thousand watts. That's how much power the competitors in the 2019 ASC Student Supercomputer Challenge here in Dalian, China, have to work with. Everybody would like more juice to run compute-intensive HPC simulatio Read more…

By Alex Woodie

Is Data Science the Fourth Pillar of the Scientific Method?

April 18, 2019

Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang revived a decade-old debate last month when he said that modern data science (AI plus HPC) has become the fourth pillar of the scientific method. While some disagree with the notion that statistic Read more…

By Alex Woodie

At ASF 2019: The Virtuous Circle of Big Data, AI and HPC

April 18, 2019

We've entered a new phase in IT -- in the world, really -- where the combination of big data, artificial intelligence, and high performance computing is pushing the bounds of what's possible in business and science, in w Read more…

By Alex Woodie with Doug Black and Tiffany Trader

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPE and Intel® Omni-Path Architecture: How to Power a Cloud

Learn how HPE and Intel® Omni-Path Architecture provide critical infrastructure for leading Nordic HPC provider’s HPCFLOW cloud service.

powercloud_blog.jpgFor decades, HPE has been at the forefront of high-performance computing, and we’ve powered some of the fastest and most robust supercomputers in the world. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

Bridging HPC and Cloud Native Development with Kubernetes

The HPC community has historically developed its own specialized software stack including schedulers, filesystems, developer tools, container technologies tuned for performance and large-scale on-premises deployments. Read more…

Google Open Sources TensorFlow Version of MorphNet DL Tool

April 18, 2019

Designing optimum deep neural networks remains a non-trivial exercise. “Given the large search space of possible architectures, designing a network from scratch for your specific application can be prohibitively expens Read more…

By John Russell

A Beginner’s Guide to the ASC19 Finals

April 22, 2019

Three thousand watts. That's how much power the competitors in the 2019 ASC Student Supercomputer Challenge here in Dalian, China, have to work with. Everybody Read more…

By Alex Woodie

At ASF 2019: The Virtuous Circle of Big Data, AI and HPC

April 18, 2019

We've entered a new phase in IT -- in the world, really -- where the combination of big data, artificial intelligence, and high performance computing is pushing Read more…

By Alex Woodie with Doug Black and Tiffany Trader

Interview with 2019 Person to Watch Michela Taufer

April 18, 2019

Today, as part of our ongoing HPCwire People to Watch focus series, we are highlighting our interview with 2019 Person to Watch Michela Taufer. Michela -- the Read more…

By HPCwire Editorial Team

Intel Gold U-Series SKUs Reveal Single Socket Intentions

April 18, 2019

Intel plans to jump into the single socket market with a portion of its just announced Cascade Lake microprocessor line according to one media report. This isn Read more…

By John Russell

BSC Researchers Shrink Floating Point Formats to Accelerate Deep Neural Network Training

April 15, 2019

Sometimes calculating solutions as precisely as a computer can wastes more CPU resources than is necessary. A case in point is with deep learning. In early stag Read more…

By Ken Strandberg

Intel Extends FPGA Ecosystem with 10nm Agilex

April 11, 2019

The insatiable appetite for higher throughput and lower latency – particularly where edge analytics and AI, network functions, or for a range of datacenter ac Read more…

By Doug Black

Nvidia Doubles Down on Medical AI

April 9, 2019

Nvidia is collaborating with medical groups to push GPU-powered AI tools into clinical settings, including radiology and drug discovery. The GPU leader said Monday it will collaborate with the American College of Radiology (ACR) to provide clinicians with its Clara AI tool kit. The partnership would allow radiologists to leverage AI techniques for diagnostic imaging using their own clinical data. Read more…

By George Leopold

Digging into MLPerf Benchmark Suite to Inform AI Infrastructure Decisions

April 9, 2019

With machine learning and deep learning storming into the datacenter, the new challenge is optimizing infrastructure choices to support diverse ML and DL workfl Read more…

By John Russell

The Case Against ‘The Case Against Quantum Computing’

January 9, 2019

It’s not easy to be a physicist. Richard Feynman (basically the Jimi Hendrix of physicists) once said: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourse Read more…

By Ben Criger

Why Nvidia Bought Mellanox: ‘Future Datacenters Will Be…Like High Performance Computers’

March 14, 2019

“Future datacenters of all kinds will be built like high performance computers,” said Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang during a phone briefing on Monday after Nvidia revealed scooping up the high performance networking company Mellanox for $6.9 billion. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

ClusterVision in Bankruptcy, Fate Uncertain

February 13, 2019

ClusterVision, European HPC specialists that have built and installed over 20 Top500-ranked systems in their nearly 17-year history, appear to be in the midst o Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Intel Reportedly in $6B Bid for Mellanox

January 30, 2019

The latest rumors and reports around an acquisition of Mellanox focus on Intel, which has reportedly offered a $6 billion bid for the high performance interconn Read more…

By Doug Black

It’s Official: Aurora on Track to Be First US Exascale Computer in 2021

March 18, 2019

The U.S. Department of Energy along with Intel and Cray confirmed today that an Intel/Cray supercomputer, "Aurora," capable of sustained performance of one exaf Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Looking for Light Reading? NSF-backed ‘Comic Books’ Tackle Quantum Computing

January 28, 2019

Still baffled by quantum computing? How about turning to comic books (graphic novels for the well-read among you) for some clarity and a little humor on QC. The Read more…

By John Russell

IBM Quantum Update: Q System One Launch, New Collaborators, and QC Center Plans

January 10, 2019

IBM made three significant quantum computing announcements at CES this week. One was introduction of IBM Q System One; it’s really the integration of IBM’s Read more…

By John Russell

Deep500: ETH Researchers Introduce New Deep Learning Benchmark for HPC

February 5, 2019

ETH researchers have developed a new deep learning benchmarking environment – Deep500 – they say is “the first distributed and reproducible benchmarking s Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

SC 18 Virtual Booth Video Tour

Advania @ SC18 AMD @ SC18
ASRock Rack @ SC18
DDN Storage @ SC18
HPE @ SC18
IBM @ SC18
Lenovo @ SC18 Mellanox Technologies @ SC18
One Stop Systems @ SC18
Oracle @ SC18 Panasas @ SC18
Supermicro @ SC18 SUSE @ SC18 TYAN @ SC18
Verne Global @ SC18

IBM Bets $2B Seeking 1000X AI Hardware Performance Boost

February 7, 2019

For now, AI systems are mostly machine learning-based and “narrow” – powerful as they are by today's standards, they're limited to performing a few, narro Read more…

By Doug Black

The Deep500 – Researchers Tackle an HPC Benchmark for Deep Learning

January 7, 2019

How do you know if an HPC system, particularly a larger-scale system, is well-suited for deep learning workloads? Today, that’s not an easy question to answer Read more…

By John Russell

Arm Unveils Neoverse N1 Platform with up to 128-Cores

February 20, 2019

Following on its Neoverse roadmap announcement last October, Arm today revealed its next-gen Neoverse microarchitecture with compute and throughput-optimized si Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Intel Launches Cascade Lake Xeons with Up to 56 Cores

April 2, 2019

At Intel's Data-Centric Innovation Day in San Francisco (April 2), the company unveiled its second-generation Xeon Scalable (Cascade Lake) family and debuted it Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

France to Deploy AI-Focused Supercomputer: Jean Zay

January 22, 2019

HPE announced today that it won the contract to build a supercomputer that will drive France’s AI and HPC efforts. The computer will be part of GENCI, the Fre Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Oil and Gas Supercloud Clears Out Remaining Knights Landing Inventory: All 38,000 Wafers

March 13, 2019

The McCloud HPC service being built by Australia’s DownUnder GeoSolutions (DUG) outside Houston is set to become the largest oil and gas cloud in the world th Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Intel Extends FPGA Ecosystem with 10nm Agilex

April 11, 2019

The insatiable appetite for higher throughput and lower latency – particularly where edge analytics and AI, network functions, or for a range of datacenter ac Read more…

By Doug Black

UC Berkeley Paper Heralds Rise of Serverless Computing in the Cloud – Do You Agree?

February 13, 2019

Almost exactly ten years to the day from publishing of their widely-read, seminal paper on cloud computing, UC Berkeley researchers have issued another ambitious examination of cloud computing - Cloud Programming Simplified: A Berkeley View on Serverless Computing. The new work heralds the rise of ‘serverless computing’ as the next dominant phase of cloud computing. Read more…

By John Russell

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This