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Omni-Path Spin-Out Aims To Help HPC Partners Keep Nvidia In Check

‘One of our competitors is going full solution. They‘re getting deeper and deeper into not needing anybody else. And so that eliminates choice and creates opportunity for us,’ says Phil Murphy, CEO of Intel Omni-Path spin-out Cornelis Networks, in an interview with CRN.

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Cornelis Networks is based in Wayne, Pennsylvania. Is that where you and some of your other colleagues were when you worked for Intel?

I used to work for a mainframe company out here in the Philadelphia area, originally called Burroughs Corporation, eventually changed they their name to Unisys Corporation, so they were out here. In the year 2000, I actually started an InfiniBand-based company to go after high-performance computing with a new high-performance interconnect, and we ran independently here for six years. Then we got acquired by QLogic in 2006, which formed the basis of the QLogic InfiniBand team. I was the vice president of engineering there from 2016 to 2012, and that‘s when Intel brought us in and then a little bit later bought a team from Cray and created Omni-Path. We’ve been out here in Philadelphia area the whole time.

How did Cornelis Networks come to be? How were you able to get the IP and products from Intel?

The press release mentioned that we actually completed two agreements simultaneously. The first one was a company financing, a Series A financing, and we were able to complete that with a great venture firm out of the U.K. called Downing Ventures. They‘re just a really great deep tech company that shares our vision, so we’re really, really excited about working with those guys. And of course, Intel Capital also participated in this, so we’re now an Intel portfolio company as well. And the other connection we have is that the founders were all University of Pennsylvania grads. The Alumni Ventures Group has a bunch of affiliated groups, and the one out here in Philadelphia is called Chestnut Street Ventures, and they participated as well. And so we’ve completed that.

But then the second thing we completed is the spin-out of the Omni-Path group. As you can imagine, we recognized that a while ago Intel has shifting priorities. They had a certain vision for what they were going to do back in 2012 in high-performance computing, but priorities change, and they change relatively slowly, but they do change. So it started becoming apparent to me that Intel was going to de-emphasize this product line. And I spent the bulk of my career working on it, and I could see that it still had very big potential. So I approached them quite a while ago and said, “you know, I don‘t think this fits in Intel anymore. I still think is fantastic technology. And I think that if we set it free, that it can really make a big impact.” And fortunately, Intel agreed that, “yeah, becoming an independent company can actually really unlock the value here.” And so we spent some time working out the agreements between ourselves and Intel about how this will all play out. And once we got that in place, our next task was to find the right financing partner to join in as well. We’re very fortunate that we found those guys.

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When did you start those conversations with Intel about spinning out Omni-Path?

I would say it was probably 18 months ago. We knew that Intel was de-emphasizing it that point in time, but there was a lot going on as well. They were de-emphasizing it, but they hadn‘t made any firm decisions on what’s going to happen. And so we started quite a while ago, and early this year, finished all the agreements with Intel on how this was going to unfold, because as you can probably imagine, Intel’s contributing a lot. They’re contributing the product line, all the inventory that goes with it, so we have access to that. We have the IP. We actually have support services agreement with Intel in which we’re going to be supporting their existing customers. There was a lot to work out between us and Intel. Once that happened, we were searching for the right financing partner to lead our round. That can sometimes take some time. It’s the second time we’ve been through it, but it’s a challenge.

The press release states that Omni-Path has more than 500 end-user sites. How many customers does that constitute?

That‘s roughly 500. 500 end users. It depends on what you mean, though. Our distribution model has always been indirect, which means there’s a business development team out making sure that end users are aware of our products and creating that demand, but we don’t sell to them directly. Direct customers are OEM and system integration partners around the world, but the number of end user sites are on the order of 500.

The press release mentions customers using Omni-Path to reach 200-Gbps speeds. Does that mean they are using the OPA 200 product that was canceled at Intel?

What that phrasing in the press release means is that we have 100-gig product, and we‘ve been working on that, refining that for a long time. And, because of the great cost structure with that, we do dual-rail implementations to get to 200 gigabits per second. As an example, there was a recent [supercomputer] that the [U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration] just deployed called Magma that they did their analysis and determined [to use] dual-rail Omni-Path, because what you really want to do is you want to be able to connect a 100-gig adapter to each socket of a dual-socket [Intel Xeon server] rather than have the 200-gig going into one. And so, to ensure that the product line and the cost structure of the product line is far less than, let’s say, competitive products, we can address 100- and 200-gig markets very effectively.

 
 
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