Cray's big deals with the Australian intelligence community

Recently the Australian government’s Department of Defence (that’s the Australian spelling) took the somewhat unusual step of announcing the installation of a new supercomputer from Cray.

Combet signs systemGreg Combet, Minister for Defence Personnel, Materiel and Science [pictured right signing the system] has commissioned a new supercomputer for the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD).

“The new supercomputer delivered by Cray Inc supports DSD’s signals intelligence and cyber security missions. It also supports the White Paper goal of providing more and faster intelligence support and assists in the response to cyber incidents and threats,” Mr Combet said.

I say “unusual” because intelligence customers around the world are tight-lipped about what’s going on when it comes to computing capability. In fact, although they announced the commissioning, neither the Australian government nor Cray would give any details about the size of the machine, the cost, or even which of Cray’s products this was (XMT? XT6?). This quote, from ZDNet Australia, was typical of the media coverage of the commissioning at the time

At the time of publication, the Department of Defence was unable to say how much the computer had cost, or what speeds it was capable of.

So I delayed reporting it here while I asked, and dug, around. I haven’t found much else (asking was a dead end), but thanks to the magic of the interwebs and open government, I have found out some small details.

A trip to the Australian government’s tender system at www.tenders.gov.au and a search for Cray shows two large purchases from Cray by the Department of Defence “Intelligence Group Purchasing Approver.” Both were awarded in mid 2009, which puts the timing such that either one of them is a likely candidate for the system that was just commissioned.

The first system was purchased under contract CN184499 for 14,517,255.68AUD (13.2368337 million U.S. dollars). The second was purchased under contract CN214125 for 8,884,972.74AUD (8.10131814 million U.S. dollars). One of the stories that was published at the time of the event was later updated as the Department realized that someone had (apparently) erroneously made this information available on the tenders site, confirming that the system Combet signed was the 14.5M AUD system. Of course there is still the matter of the 8.9M AUD Cray floating around out there.

Assuming that the government doesn’t get too steep a discount, and assuming that these are XT5 systems* (see below), we are probably looking at a 100 TFLOPS system for the big boy, and perhaps 60 TFLOPS for its smaller brother.

Of course, that’s a lot of assumptions: all we know for sure is the dollar amounts of the purchases.


*Why an Xt5? Mid-2009 was too early for XT6s, and that bar on the door Combet is signing looks like an XT5 bar, though someone has blurred out the machine designator out of the image. For example, compare this hi-res image of Jaguar’s door bars with the hi-res version of the signing ceremony released by the government. The bars are the same, right down to the five vertical slits on either side. The XT6 has no bars or other mechanical designator of any kind on its doors. The few XMT examples I can find have the old style XT3 “Cray” designator on them in individual letters (here’s one from PNNL). The XT4 does have a bar, but it has no slits as seen in this example from LBL. So, XT5.

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