Convey on track with world wide expansion and Graph500 entrance

23 Jun 2011 Hamburg - With so much attention drawn to GPUs at ISC11, we tend to forget, there are other hybrid computers that already do a lot of HPC work, like the hybrid-core system from Convey. In Hamburg, we talked to Convey CEO Bruce Toal, who explained Conveys recent work in graph processing especially in bioinformatics and Internet analysis.

Primeur magazine:  So what did you do during the past year?

Bruce Toal:  The company is growing. Its business footprint in bioinformatics increased quite substantially, as you heard from the talk here at ISC11. We have been doing sequencing applications working in the areas of genomics, we had some agricultural sequencing, that involved commercial companies that typically like to keep their work confidential. Last week, we announced results for Graph 500 because as we have been working in several areas, as in cyber security and bio-informatics. A lot of the techniques are graph oriented. When we saw how great the Convey platform was performing in those areas, we thought it would do well on the Graph 500 benchmark as well. So we undertook that activity and we published our results and we had a good result for our small platform.

Primeur magazine:  Is that a useful list? Because I think it is the second time that they published it.

Bruce Toal:  I think it is the second time. So it was 9 entries last time and they had 28 entries this time. So I think it is becoming much more. We have seen a great uptake in interest around graph processing. Companies are doing graph database now, for instance Neo4j. These companies are really gaining a lot of popularity around storing data in a graph format on storage media and that enables more efficient graph processing. I think the benchmark is giving a lot of visibility to the kind of computational techniques as we have seen in the last two talks here at ISC11, around graph processing.

If you are thinking about who else is using graph processing, one of the areas that is rising really rapidly is in social network analytics. So people that are doing problems like "I am your friend, and you are Hans's friend and therefore I probably have some connection to Hans; people are using this for brand reputation. They do a big search on the Internet and see how many times their brand is being mentioned. Has it been positive, negative, neutral, so that they can track how people view their product or their brand. So there is an awful lot of uptake in the commercial space, of people doing this kind of analytics. That is kind of new fun stuff that we have been doing in this whole area of graph processing.

Primeur magazine:  But did you already have the special "personality" for that?

Bruce Toal:  The common thing is the memory system platform, you can reduce all of this, and in fact we have a very high bandwidth scatter/gather random access memory system. And if you think of a graph as exactly that, when you are following a node on a graph, it is not a regular memory pattern. It skips around rather dramatically, so you start with that and then you say: how can we do processing against this randomly distributed data? We have done bioinformatics sequence analytics personalities that have this kind of access pattern, as well as the Graph500 breadth-first search personality, which is used broadly for graph processing. So we have that in place and as we go forward, you will see even more interesting architectures around the memory system and programming modules that will be introduced as well.

Primeur magazine:  Do you have some new customers in Europe that you could talk about?

Bruce Toal:  We do have new customers, mostly in Germany. The technical university of Darmstadt has a platform, and they are doing a lot of interesting research. We have announced a partner in the Nordic area that is actually representing the company. So we are starting to expand our footprint from a sales point of view.

Hans Heideman:  The company in the Nordic country is important, not just as a reseller: they can develop FPGA personalities as well. They have experience. So if somebody wants something special they can come to us, or they can develop it themselves. The company is called Synective.

Bruce Toal:  The University of Mainz has been trying to sequence one of the specific enzymes of the Riesling grape. We have worked with them with this sequencing tool. They were unable to have a machine with a big enough memory footprint. Our technique, called the Convey GraphConstructor, reduces the memory footprint and accelerates the assembly application to where they can actually sample the recent grapes. You are enabling biological discoveries just by the fact that we remove some barriers around the memory footprint.

Primeur magazine:  Perhaps I missed it, but most people here are talking about GPUs and not about FPGAs. So is there more development around FPGAs than just Convey?

Bruce Toal:  I am not sure who else is working around FPGAs, we are very focused. FPGAs themselves are not that interesting. It is more one of he building blocks we use. It is more of a system architecture I think that is interesting. Some people do use FPGA as an FPGA itself and then you start to run into all kinds of system issues, especially about the memory. I think there is certainly a lot of discussion around GPUs, because the entry price is low, and CUDA is free, you will see a lot of the results, but I think you also see a lot of people still questioning the amount of work that goes into producing the results.

GPUs are of absolutely no use in bioinformatics. It is more about the memory and random access. If you look at the Graph500 there is actually not a single GPU on that list and, I should point out, that Convey is the only FPGA system on the Graph 500.

Primeur magazine:  What is the situation with Convey worldwide?

Bruce Toal:  We are adding more resources internationally, with partners in Japan, Korea, Singapore, and the UK. We also have capabilities in Canada now. So, we will continue to move out internationally.

Primeur magazine:  And do you also have other industry sectors that you are growing in?

Bruce Toal:  This and cyber security, where there is a lot of governmental business and then really quite a lot of research people doing computer architecture research. We have the University of South Carolina that is doing a personality to do Bayesian analysis on our platform. So, there is a lot of innovation going on which is really fun to see.

But industrial, life sciences, bioinformatics, and then more government. We have some activities in financial analytics, in oil and gas, those are still, you know, relatively young.

Primeur magazine:  Thanks very much for the interview.
Ad Emmen