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Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

January 21, 2009 at 10:52 AM

Stealthy UW multicore software spinoff gets Madrona funding (UPDATED)

After keeping a low profile since it was started last year by two University of Washington professors, PetraVM today emerged with a funding deal and plans to hire senior engineers, marketers and a chief executive officer.

The Seattle startup is building new tools for software developers writing multi-threaded programs for multi-core processors.

PetraVM announced this morning that it received $1.5 million in series A funding from Madrona Venture Group — which has successfully tapped into the UW innovation keg before — and Washington Research Foundation. It will use the funding to finish its first products and bring them to market.

PetraVM was founded by computer science professors Mark Oskin and Luis Ceze. The third manager is Isilon veteran Peter Godman, who joined as vice president of engineeering in November.

In the release, Oskin, the chief executive, said the company’s “initial goal is to enable developers to write more reliable multi-threaded code at a lower cost.”

The company’s key technology emerged in a research paper Ceze wrote in late 2007 on deterministic multiprocessing. It was patented by the school and licensed to PetraVM.

Oskin said the company expects to release its first product in beta form for developers this summer. Longer-term, it hopes to see its technology used broadly in operating systems.

“It’s a good opportunity – everyone now has to write multithreaded software if you want to get any more performance,” he explained. “It’s a very difficult problem – writing multithreaded code is one of the grand challenges of computer science.”

The timing’s also good, with the number of cores in computer processors multiplying rapidly. Although most homes are still migrating to dual-core systems, prices are falling on quad-core systems and Intel’s lining up six- and eight-core processors that will probably be mainstream during the Windows 7 era.

“We can ease the pain that developers are facing writing multithreaded software,” Oskin said. “The long term vision is there are certain types of programmer errors that we can make not appear on the end users’ desktop.”

Oskin said the company plans to hire two or three engineers, plus marketers and an executive who will take his place. Oskin will move into a chief technology officer role until a permanent CTO is hired.

The Pioneer Square-based company should have 20 or so employees within a few years, he said.

Madrona managing director Matt McIlwain is joining PetraVM’s board of directors.

Comments | More in | Topics: Education, Startups

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