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Start-up - ActiveEon

Cécile Fradin - Technoscope - 6/10/2008

Interview with Denis Caromel

Deni Caromel Chapo © INRIA Denis Caromel

ActiveEon publishes Open Source solutions for distributed and parallel computing in order to accelerate applications and virtualisation. Meet Denis Caromel, researcher at Inria, parallel and distributed programming specialist, founder and scientific advisor of ActiveEon.

Appointed a professor at Université de Nice Sophia-Antipolis in 1991, you have been responsible for the OASIS project for more than two years. What pushed you to launch ActiveEon simultaneously?

Denis Caromel: I had actually had this idea for quite some time, but the process of deciding on and then proceeding with the project was rather lengthy. I persevered for several reasons. First of all, there was the desire to have our research applied in a wider context than the laboratory. I wanted to make things as usable as possible in the fields of industry and scientific research. In addition, after supervising fifteen PhD students, I wanted to see our work materialise in a start-up that created jobs and had its own life. The frustration of being able to work only temporarily with competent students/researchers who then went abroad was also a factor. One of the objectives was therefore to keep this skill-base here in France. We decided on the project in late 2005. After that, things started moving forward relatively smoothly, as the preparatory work had already been done. We were first supported at Inria by experts in development and business creation. Then, in July 2006, we entered the PACA-Est incubator, which was very significant.

ProActive Parallel Suite was already used in the industry before the creation of ActiveEon, particularly by the company Amadeus. You were therefore certain that your technology had its place?

Denis Caromel: Completely. It is important to understand that we are now at a crossroads in computing. Previously, every eighteen months, computers doubled their speed; in case of a performance problem, you could simply wait for a suitable machine to become available. Those days are gone: manufacturers are no longer able to maintain the pace. In order to be able to correctly process information, it is now necessary to parallelise it on several machines. Our software is perhaps not the only solution existing on the market, but we have the originality of programming in Java, which is truly adapted to industrial needs.

The economic players seem to trust you already, despite the "youth" of your business...

Denis Caromel:  That's true, but remember that the contacts that you mention were made while we were already in the PACA-Est incubator. So, we have to consider that ActiveEon was already up and running, even if officially we have only been around since November 2007. We experienced a period of anxiety when the economic and administrative partners were slow to pay the promised grants. At the time, we realised that some organisations did not yet truly take into account the fragility of start-ups at their launch. However, it's important to remain positive, even if things are not always straightforward! ActiveEon is currently in discussion with integrators to respond to calls for tender. At the same time, we have diversified our activities a little, and we already have clients in Boston, who are receiving ProActive Parallel Suite courses and consulting. Today, ActiveEon counts seven people (six of whom went through OASIS), and we plan to hire three more employees in September. As you can see, we have a good sense of optimism!

ActiveEon in brief

In order to face an increasing demand for performance, the distribution of "heavy" applications among several machines often proves to be more efficient and more profitable than waiting for a hypothetical new super-strong processor. In order to respond to this need, Denis Caromel and members of the Inria OASIS team decided at the end of 2005 to invest themselves in the creation of a start-up. At Inria, Denis is studying parallel and distributed programming and is performing research on grids. As part of this, he has been working on the ProActive Parallel Suite software for ten years. Their business creation plan has quickly achieved a certain level of success: two-time winner of the national competition for assistance in the creation of innovative businesses and technologies, in 2006 then again in 2007, the team was also selected for a project involving the ProActive Parallel Suite software, with a service focus. The scientists thus have Oracle and Hewlett Packard as partners. ActiveEon was founded on 5 November 2007, and the business has already teamed up with Thales Avionic on the simulation of airplane power supplies. It has also established contacts with Cadence Design Systems. The start-up also offers professional training involving grid technology, consulting, integration and subscription for contracts related to open source software.

ProActive Parallel Suite software

The ProActive Parallel Suite software improves the management of computing infrastructures. The OASIS project-team, which designed it, works on the parallelisation of applications, a method that makes it possible to pool the power of several computers and therefore optimise the processing of information. This streamlining results in a decrease in the number of machines required, management costs and energy consumption. By migrating to Service-Oriented Architectures (SOA), business infrastructures must be managed, but pieces of applications must also be distributed on machines that are not fixed. ProActive Parallel Suite therefore offers the possibility of achieving this more quickly and more easily by providing tools that will help programmers "divide" their applications. The OASIS scientists have also worked on technology involving Java, which is the programming language of the business world. The goal was to match the speed of the languages traditionally used for this type of software: Fortran and

Keywords: Programmation parallèle Programmation distribuée Virtualisation