Cray is preparing to bring two new supercomputers to market next year as it continues to try to group its various high-performance computer models into a single family of machines.
On Nov. 6, the company will introduce the Cray XT5—its first new supercomputer since the XT4’s unveiling in November 2006. The XT5 will offer a new computing blade that will support Advanced Micro Devices’ dual- and quad-core Opteron processors. The other supercomputer being introduced, the XT5h, is what the company calls a hybrid system that will support multiple microprocessor architectures.
For Cray, the new family of systems represents the next piece in its “Rainier” program, which looks to bring the company’s different supercomputer architectures under one unified infrastructure. Cray’s next program, “Cascade,” will look to create a single adaptive system for high-performance computing that will allow one machine to handle different computing tasks. The XT5h hybrid supercomputer is a step toward that goal.
Cray currently offers two of the most powerful supercomputing systems in the world, with sustained performances of more than 100 teraflops, or 100 trillion calculations a second. The two machines are ranked just below IBM’s Blue Gene/L system at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.
Jan Silverman, Cray’s senior vice president for corporate strategy and business development, said the types of supercomputers Cray, IBM and other companies are developing are trying to keep up with the demands of researchers who require more and more computer simulations to predict changes in the global climate or to explore areas such as the Big Bang theory.
“This is all about scalability and the need to run very complicated applications across more and more processors,” Silverman said. “The problem that we are trying to address is how to interconnect and build systems that can incorporate literally millions of processor cores.”
Cray’s new XT5 system will support the older XT4 blades as well as new eight-socket blades designed for the XT5. Up to 24 of these blades can fit into a single cabinet and support up to 768 CPU cores. The new blades also use the next-generation SeaStar2+ interconnect chip, which supports new HyperTransport 3.0 interconnect technology and ties the system together, allowing for better communication between each Opteron processor and reducing bottlenecks.
The design also allows for reduced energy and cooling costs by incorporating a turbine fan that draws cool air from the data center floor.
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Officials say the XT5h model can work with multiple processor platforms, including vector processors, which allow high-memory bandwidth, and specialized chips called FPGAs (field-programmable gate arrays), which can be reconfigured to run certain calculations extremely fast.
The hybrid machine builds on the XT5 supercomputer and uses two additional blades. The first is the Cray X2, which uses four vector CPUs that allow for a four-way SMP (symmetric multiprocessing) platform. Each one of these nodes, according to Cray, offers a peak performance of 100 gigaflops. The XT5h also uses the Cray XR1 blade, which couples a pair of AMD Opteron processors with RPUs (reconfigurable processor units)—a type of FPGA chip—with the HyperTransport interconnects. This type of configuration allows for low latency and high-bandwidth communications between the various processing elements.
While Cray won’t begin shipping the new supercomputers until 2008, the company plans to display both at the SC07 supercomputing expo in Reno, Nev., later in November. Company executives said that by the middle of next year, Cray expects to begin building systems large enough to offer a performance of a petaflop, or 1 quadrillion calculations per second.
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