Cray Opts for Intel Chips for Newest Supercomputers

Cray's XC30, the first of the company's next-generation supercomputers, will run on Intel's Xeon chips, and eventually include Intel's Xeon Phi coprocessors.

Cray, which has used Opteron processors from Advanced Micro Devices for most of their supercomputers, is now embracing Intel chips for its new XC30 supercomputer line.

The XC30—which had been code-named Cascade—is Cray's next-generation supercomputer product line, and the first of the XC portfolio, which will replace the current XE and XK brands as the company's flagship high-performance computing (HPC) family, according to Barry Bolding, Cray's vice president of corporate marketing. The new systems not only will come with Intel's Xeon chips, but they also will feature significant improvements in interconnect technology and bandwidth, performance, energy efficiency and HPC software support.

Bolding noted that the current AMD-based XE Blue Waters and XK Titan systems have been stalwarts in Cray's supercomputer lineup as it has competed with the likes of IBM, Fujistu, Hewlett-Packard and others.

"We anticipate that XC will be just as important to our competitiveness going forward," he told eWEEK.

The HPC server space is becoming increasingly competitive, not only with the continued demand from scientific and educational institutions, but also the growth in large enterprise data centers that need the same performance, scalability and energy-efficiency capabilities. According to market research firm IDC, revenue in the HPC technical server space in the second quarter hit $2.4 billion. In 2011, overall revenue hit $10.3 billion, and analysts expect to see that number jump to $11 billion this year.

IBM had 32.7 percent of the market in the quarter, followed by HP, with 29.8 percent, and Dell, with 14.2 percent. Cray during the quarter saw its revenue jump 43.7 percent, according to IDC.

Cray's announcement comes less than a week before the SC12 supercomputing show opens Nov. 12 in Salt Lake City.

Cray's XC30 system—which will be able to scale to more than 100 petaflops of performance—initially will be powered by Intel's current 32-nanometer Xeon E5-2600 Sandy Bridge processors, and later by the 22nm "Ivy Bridge" server chips when they become available next year. The system also eventually will leverage accelerator technology, such as Intel's Xeon Phi coprocessors and Nvidia's Tesla graphics accelerator technology, according to Bolding.

Cray opted for Intel's chips for the XC30 for their performance and connectivity flexibility, he said. The performance improvements in the current Sandy Bridge and upcoming Ivy Bridge Xeons were important to Cray, as was the ability to leverage both Intel's Xeon Phi coprocessors and Nvidia's GPU accelerators. Another important factor was Intel's incorporation of the PCIe-3 interconnect technology into the chips.

A key for the supercomputer will be the addition of the Aries interconnect technology, which is optimized for HPC environments. The XC30 will offer a 20-times improvement in global bandwidth, and the because of Aries, each node in the supercomputer will be able to handle 120 million gets/puts per second, significantly faster than the 30 million to 40 million gets/puts per second for Cray's XK systems. Each node in the XC30s will include a 48-port Aries interconnect.

Development Aries had been with Cray until April, when Intel announced it was buying Cray's networking assets for $140 million. Included in those assets were Cray's Gemini technology and Aries.

Along with Aries, Cray is introducing its Dragonfly topology, which is designed to free applications from locality constraints and create a low-latency network that includes adaptive routing capabilities. Cray also is introducing a new cooling system aimed at leveraging what Bolding called a transverse airflow to lower overall total cost of ownership (TCO) for customers. Air is blown into one end of the a row of computers and out the other end, helping to eliminate the more traditional hot aisle/cold aisle setup in many data centers.

The XC30—early samples of which are shipping now, with wider availability set for the first quarter of 2013—also will come with the next generation of the high-performance Cray Linux Environment, which includes enhancements in its clustering capabilities, and Cray's HPC optimized programming environment, which includes compilers, job management, libraries and debugging tools.

According to company officials, Cray already has more than $100 million in contracts for the XC30, which has been in development for more than five years.