For do-it-yourself supercomputers, see a Mississippi company

Contact: Bob Ratliff

A small Starkville company is doing big things in the world of supercomputers.

MPI Software Technology Inc. is producing software that enables users to "build" their own supercomputer at a fraction of the cost associated with mainframe machines typically handling high-performance operations.

Anthony Skjellum, an associate professor of computer science at Mississippi State University, founded the company in 1996. He joined the MSU faculty in 1993 after completing a doctorate at the California Institute of Technology and working for 2 1/2 years at the U.S. Energy Department's Livermore National Laboratory near San Francisco.

Skjellum, a California native, had focused his doctoral research on ways to build computer message-passing systems.

"My work in that area continued with the national lab and at Mississippi State," he said. "After about three years, the MSU project was coming to an end. Forming the company was a way to apply the research to the real world while continuing to learn about message passing interface applications."

Message passing interface, or MPI, involves linking together clusters of desktop computers, servers and embedded processors to work together on the same applications. The software produced by Skjellum's company enables a variety of customers to use this method to boost their computing power.

MSTI is located in the Mississippi Research and Technology Park, adjacent to MSU. Its first customers were computing companies in the Boston area.

"They are basically defense contractors supplying computers that go into submarines, airplanes and medical equipment," Skjellum said.

After that, it didn't take long for the company's software to gain an international reputation. Now, just 2 1/2 years in operation, it has customers on every continent except Antarctica. Sales are expected to reach $1 million during 1999.

"We've had a lot of impact on what people are doing worldwide with cluster computing," Skjellum said. "Its uses have moved beyond university and defense labs and into the business world, which offers a range of new opportunities for super-computing technology."

Other message passing software is available, but MSTI is unique in that it also provides support, upgrades and the ability to run on Microsoft Windows and other operating systems.

"Our software will work on very low-end networking like that used in a typical business office or a more expensive networking system, depending on the customer's budget and application needs," Skjellum explained.

MSTI, which started with a couple of employees, now has a staff of 15. Skjellum credits the success of the company with the quality of those employees.

"We've been able to hire graduates of Mississippi State who have learned skills that enable us to work with a lot of high tech companies," he said.

The National Science Foundation has recognized MSTI's reputation as a leader in the field of message passing technology. To date, the NSF has presented the company with three Small Business Innovation Research awards.

Because the awards are so highly competitive, Skjellum said they have the added benefit of bringing more international attention to the high-tech work now being done in Mississippi.

Thu, 01/07/1999 - 06:00