Cray is looking to reestablish it reputation as one of the world’s top supercomputer makers.
After several years of poor financial results and watching IBM and other vendors dominate the field, Cray is poised the regain its reputation for making highly specialized supercomputers that can handle a wide range of problems from climate modeling to origins of the universe.
On Jan. 14, the Seattle company is planning to announce that it has signed a new contract with Scotland’s University of Edinburgh to redesign its supercomputer that forms the base of the High-End Computing Terascale Resource project. When the machine is fully revamped in 2009, it will become one of the most powerful systems in Europe with a peak performance of 250 teraflops, or 250 trillion calculations per second.
The current supercomputer in Edinburgh is a Cray XT4 system that offers a peak performance of 54.6 teraflops, which will increase initially to 63 teraflops with the revamp announced Monday.
For Cray, the contract with the university will represent the first time it will build a supercomputer using the XT5h supercomputer system that the company introduced in November. The new system is a hybrid model that supports multiple microprocessor architectures and is another step in Cray’s “Cascade” program that will eventually create a single adaptive system for high-performance computing that will allow one machine to handle different computing tasks.
This type of supercomputer will eventually reach the petaflop mark or one quadrillion calculations per second. IBM and Sun Microsystems also have plans to build machines that offer this type of peak performance.
While dominated by a few big players such as IBM, SGI, Hewlett-Packard and Cray, the supercomputing field is expected to grow about 9 percent between 2006 and 2011, according to IDC. For businesses such as Cray, contracts with large academic institutions help distinguish a company’s approach to supercomputing from the competition.
“For us, it’s very important because we are delivering our leading edge supercomputer that we are ready to install over the course of this year, and we will make our second installation there that will turn it into a hybrid supercomputer-the first one that will be delivering,” Peter Ungaro, Cray’s president and CEO, told eWEEK in an interview.
“Cray is really gaining ground in the world of supercomputing again,” said Ungaro. “A lot of our growth around the world has been coming” from the international community, he said.
After struggling for years, Cray began to bounce back in 2006 when it won critical funding through the U.S. Defense Advanced Research and Development Agency. As a company, Cray has typically relied on government contracts to thrive, and the 2006 funding proved a key milestone for helping the company survive as a supercomputer specialist.
Europe, which has been behind both the U.S. and Japan in the supercomputing field, is another prime target for vendors seeking lucrative government contracts. On Jan. 7, IBM announced that it had signed a new contract with the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts to build a high performance cluster there.
“Cray increasingly has had impressive wins in the market place, and it’s a measure of how far the company has come, especially against some of the bigger names in the business,” said Steve Conway, an IDC analyst.
What separates Cray from some of the other supercomputers makers is the hybrid design that builds cabinets that use both industry-standard Advanced Micro Devices x86 Opteron processors and its own specially developed vector processors, which allow for high-memory bandwidth. The result is a supercomputer that can solve different problems by moving data from one set of processors to another depending on the workload, according to company officials.
By establishing itself in academic institutions, Conway said companies such as Cray are also looking to offer their supercomputers for use in the enterprise in areas such as pharmaceuticals and engineering.
“Supercomputing is one of the fastest growing of the markets out there, and its growing several times the rate of the commercial server market,” Conway said.
Ungaro said that since 2005, Cray has been following its road map and plans on introducing a new system every two years to complete its Cascade program. The next machine on the road map is “Baker,” which is scheduled for 2009 and another system will follow in 2011.
In keeping Cray competitive, Ungaro said that the technology the company is developing with the Cascade program and its current hybrid machines will help distinguish it from IBM in realm of high-end supercomputers.
“We have quite a different model than those other vendors in that we’re focused on a specific market-the high-end supercomputing market-and we think the addressable market is about $1.5 billion dollars, which for a company of our size, is a pretty large market to compete in,” Ungaro said. “Our focus is to keep innovating in that marketplace.”