09 Feb Former SGI/Cray Team Develops Products for G5 Platform
Eau Claire, Wis. – Based on initial response, it looks as if Small Tree Communications might be a bit of a misnomer for the latest group of former Cray and SGI employees to brave the market and launch a new technology company.
The Inver Grove Heights, Minn.-based business, with ties to legacy Chippewa Valley computer companies, is touting its link aggregation mechanism as a breakthrough product for Apple Computer’s enterprise customers who need enhanced networking for the Apple G5 platform. The 64-bit, dual-processor Power Mac G5 computer has recently received renewed attention by virtue of VirginiaTech University’s Terascale Cluster project that networked 1,100 G5s, along with off-the-shelf components, to create a supercomputer.
Small Tree Managing Partner Corky Seeber, a former Cray employee, was one of a handful of former SGI engineers with 64-bit computing experience, laid off from the company about the time Apple’s G5 hit the market.
“We were aware there were heavy SGI layoffs coming,” Seeber said. “We started looking for something to do. Apple announced the G5 platform in June, and in August, we found out, we were out of work. The Apple announcement really presented an opportunity for us.”
Seeber’s and his SGI fellow castaways were steeped in knowledge of the Unix-based code that is the foundation of the Mac OS X operating system. Seeking an opportunity to use their expertise to build a hot new computer product, the Small Tree team formed a partnership in late September and began writing code in November for the new G5 platform.
Small Tree’s link aggregation is a software-only mechanism that allows G5 users to combine multiple Ethernet ports into one logical port, which gives administrators more bandwidth, better availability and more efficient utilization of all the physical ports in the network. In addition, the company says, the software allows for larger client loads on a system as administrators can now increase the available bandwidth and reliability of network links between G5 servers and switches.
The startup has already made inroads with major industry player’s including Intel and Apple. “The aggregation product, it looks to be a good one,” said Seeber’s longtime colleague, Jeff West, president of Eau Claire-based Silicon Logic Engineering, itself a conglomeration of engineers who once worked for local supercomputing manufacturer, Cray.
“It’s something that Apple likes. It can help open up a new market for them as far as being able network Apple server’s together to build powerful computing platforms,” said West. “To me the more interesting part is, here’s a group of guys that basically got let go from SGI and have taken Apple’s G5 technology coupled it with their experience, and turned it into a new business.”
The search for capital begins
Using Small Tree as an example, West observed that the state of Wisconsin’s recent push to attract huge companies with rich venture capital programs misses the budding success stories right under its nose. If the state were to instead provide small business administration-type guarantees to local banks, many entrepreneurs could survive their critical first year and go to provide more jobs than one huge firm could, according to West.
“Venture capitalists would be he first to tell you they only fund one out of 100 companies they look at,” West said. “Does that mean the other 99 stink? No, it just means they’re not going to grow at 500 percent per year. But what’s wrong with 20 or 30 percent growth and creating jobs that are two and three times the state average?”
Funding roadblocks aside, based on input Small Tree received at the recent Macworld conference and expo in San Francisco and its combined experience, the company has reason for optimism, according to Seeber.
“Coming out of SGI’s 64-bit processor heritage … this is a natural fit,” Seeber said. “The company has a combined 120 years of experience writing and [creating products for] I/O peripherals on 64-bit platforms.”
“We’re being inundated with calls,” he said. “Everybody wants to sell our product.”