I was one of the early employees of MasPar Computer Corporation (I worked on the Fortran and later C compilers). MasPar manufactured massively parallel supercomputers. These systems used a SIMD architecture and could be purchased with up to 16K processors (for an overview of the company and architecture, follow this link). MasPar shipped over two hundred systems, which were used in a wide range of applications, including crash simulation and DNA sequence search. At its high point, MasPar had revenues of approximately $40 million, employing almost 200 people. Unfortunately, the company was never more than sporadically profitable on a quarterly basis. MasPar still exists in the form of a company named NeoVista. Like Thinking Machines Corp., the new incarnation of MasPar does not manufacture hardware, but markets "data mining" software for corporate "decision support". Ironically, the new MasPar still competes with the new Thinking Machines, just as they did when they both manufactured massively parallel SIMD systems.
MasPar had several competitors, including Thinking Machines Corp., Convex (now part of Hewlett-Packard), Cray Research (now part of Silicon Graphics Inc.,) and Kendall Square Research. When Kendall Square Research first announced their system, there was a great deal of hype and secrecy about anything concrete (e.g., how the system was programmed and what performance users could actually obtain). The President and chief designer of the KSR system was Henry Burkhardt III. Burkhardt was one of the original engineers who worked on the PDP-8 at DEC. Later he was one of the founders of both Data General and Encore. At the time of the KSR-1 release, there was some hype about what a great genius Henry Burkhardt was (by George Gilder, if I recall). But dispite Burkhardt's genius, few people actually seemed to be using the KSR system. MasPar rarely encountered them in competitive bids, although we regularly encountered Thinking Machines, Convex and our other competitors. KSR went on to do an Initial Public Offering (IPO) of their stock. As it later turned out, KSR's reported sales figures were fraudulent and they subsequently went bankrupt. But before the stock price fell, Henry Burkhardt cashed out almost a million dollars worth of stock. Although he was president of KSR, Burkhardt denied knowing anything about the fraudulent sales figures. Some commentators observed at the time that Burkhardt was a better technologist than accountant.
MasPar was always careful about recording revenue and had excellent financial management. But MasPar was not consistently profitable and never did an IPO. It was hard, at the time, to see people at KSR pocketing stock profits that were based on a stock price that was inflated through fraud. So it is nice to see, after all these years, that thanks to the long arm of the SEC, justice seems to have been served.
Former Executives of Kendall Square Accept Sanctions to Settle SEC Charges, The Wall Street Journal, April 30, 1996
Former Sales Chief at Defunct Kendall Settles SEC Charges, The Wall Street Journal, November 12, 1996
Last updated November 13, 1996
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