For sale: Supercomputer startup SiCortex

Contact: John Abbott

Supercomputer vendor SiCortex appears to have run out of funding options and has put itself up for sale. Gerbsman Partners has been retained to find a buyer for the assets, including the intellectual property, in whole or in part. Founded in 2003, SiCortex sought to lower the cost of developing a supercomputer by sourcing up to 80% of its chip development from off-the-shelf components, primarily multiple low-cost MIPS cores, leaving only 20% of the work to do on custom logic. There are three families of systems, Desktop, Department and Division, ranging from 72 to nearly 6,000 processors. A big selling point was energy consumption, with claims of 60-80% less electricity use than Intel-based clusters. The technology approach is similar to that of IBM’s Blue Gene supercomputers, except that SiCortex was aiming at the bottom 50,000 supercomputer users, rather than the top 500.

Over the years the company raised $68.1m in funding from Flagship Ventures, Polaris Venture Partners, Prism Venture Partners, JK&B Capital and Chevron Technology Ventures. It also acquired the PathScale multicore compiler suite from Qlogic in August 2007. A year later, ex-Novell executive Chris Stone was hired as CEO in hopes of taking SiCortex into its next phase of growth. Momentum appeared to be gathering: 75 computers shipped to customers (including NASA, Lockheed Martin and Argonne National Laboratory), 300 applications up and running plus first-quarter revenue doubling from the previous year. Gross margins were more than 50%.

Sealed bids to Gerbsman are due by June 25. However, with the venerable Silicon Graphics recently selling to Rackable Systems for less than $50m, the prospects for a richly valued sale of SiCortex don’t look very good. We would also note that fellow supercomputer systems startups Fabric7 and Panta Systems have already closed their doors. Look for a full report on the sector in tonight’s MIS sendout.