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Love for computers helped CEO launch his firm

Mar 10,2012


Once the owner of a small computer parts shop, Lee Dong-hak is now aiming to be No. 1 in the global supercomputer market.

Supercomputers aren’t the PCs we use at home. They are used in extremely high-tech areas that require ultralarge processing capacities, such as the study of space and rockets or DNA and meteorology.

Lee, 46, is currently the CEO of a company that makes supercomputers called Cocolink.

On a recent visit, there was nothing “super” about the 99-square-meter (1,060-square-foot)Cocolink offices in Gwanak District, western Seoul. Two employees were simply working on some mechanical parts in an area littered with other parts.

“When people hear the word ‘supercomputer,’ they imagine a giant machine that fills the up the entire room. But the supercomputers of today are the size of regular desktop PCs,” Lee said.

Lee enrolled at the prestigious Seoul National University in 1984, but his major was agricultural machinery. While he was in school, he came across a book on computer algorithms, and he fell in love with computers. He bought his first computer using part of the scholarship money he had received from his high school in his hometown of Jinju, South Gyeongsang. He attended classes for his major, but mostly to fulfill his course requirements. Since then, computers have been at the forefront of his mind.

He got a job at a small software firm in 1986 and later opened a small computer parts shop in Sillim-dong, a neighborhood in southern Seoul crowded with cram schools catering to students studying for the bar.

The shop eventually became a haven for other computer lovers - including Lee Chan-jin, the chief executive of Web portal Dreamwiz who is recognized as one of the pioneers of the country’s IT industry.

In the mid-1990s, Lee created Pre-win, a content platform service similar to Apple’s App Store, and sought to launch a start-up company. His efforts failed when his second-largest investor pulled out at the last minute.

In 2005, however, Lee started Cocolink. The name is a portmanteau of the words “content” and “community,” and Lee’s vision is to link the concepts.

Two years later, Lee read about graphic processing units (GPUs), which perform far better than central processing units (CPUs) and are an essential component in supercomputers, and decided to dedicate his company to the supercomputer business.

In 2010, Cocolink developed a GPU-based supercomputer that performs 100 times better than its CPU-based counterpart for just one-tenth of the cost. The computer will be commercially available after attaining radio wave authorization from the government.

“Our supercomputer is 10 times faster than the supercomputer used at the Seoul National University lab,” Lee said. “In three years, we hope to roll out a product that outperforms Japan’s K Computer and surpasses Cray, the world’s top supercomputer company.”

The K Computer placed first on the TOP500 list of the world’s most powerful supercomputers at the International Conference on Supercomputing, an international forum for high-performance computing technology, in June. The supercomputer used by the Korean Meteorological Administration ranked third.



By Jeong Won-yeop [hkim@joongang.co.kr]