Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Pico Computing

I had a fascinating lunch today with a friend I met a couple weeks ago. He's a Christian, a graduate of Seattle Pacific University (where I taught briefly), and a hardware engineer at Pico Computing. Pico makes massively parallel FPGA computers that get used by anyone who needs to solve compute-intensive, data-light problems. (I've heard that certain government agencies, for instance, have those needs.) My friend is one of those quiet, humble, intense intellects that you don't run across very often: the sort of guy who enjoys discussing chip design as much as discussing C. S. Lewis.

We sat in an Indian restaurant in Ballard, just north of the Ship Canal, enjoyed a rare hot day in Seattle, and talked about life in a startup. Pico's about where Zango was at 7 years ago: they seem to have some very smart people there, and have the potential to tap into a big and growing market. (Not everybody who wants to model protein folding, or crack the latest cryptographical algorithm, has access to a network like folding@home or World Community Grid.) After lunch, we walked back to Pico's offices, and he walked me through their design process, and he showed off a prototype of their latest not-quite-launched product. It's an interesting gig.

Pico has some big competitors – Nvidia's Tesla product line is going after roughly the same market, with a very different technology (Graphical Processing Units) – but if they can get past the bootstrap stage, I think they've got an interesting future ahead of them.

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