Cray Announces Mini-Supercomputer Line: Updated

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Cray released details to the Wall Street Journal on its latest product line, the CX1.  A mini-supercomputer you say? Indeed, Cray has officially entered the deskside market.  Starting at a measly $25,000US, the CX1 will come packaged with Intel silicon and either a Linux distro or Microsoft Windows HPC Server 2008.  What!?  You heard it folks, the people that brought you UNICOS are now running Windows.

It’s the smallest thing we’ve done,” said Ian Miller, a Cray senior vice president.

The CX1 is designed for workloads that are too large for a personal computer yet typically don’t require a multi-million dollar supercomputing investment.  Automotive component manufacturers and small research groups are a few of the initial customers Cray is targeting.

For everyone who can’t get time on the big server, if they have something like this in their office it’s a home run,” said Earl Joseph, an analyst at the market-research firm IDC.

So what about the tech details?  The article is pretty light on the actual details, but we do know this.  The CX1 will carry up to eight processor boards, each with one or two sockets of Intel silicon.  No mention of any AMD offerings or if a scaled version of SeaStar will find its way to the platform.

This is an interesting move by Cray.  You can definitely see the “broaden my marketshare” gleam in the eyes of the executives.  They do have some stiff competition though.  There are several AMD-based workstations on the market with four or eight sockets.  SiCortex also has a compelling solution with their SC072 workstation unit.

For more info, read the full article here at the WSJ.

UPDATE: Upon listening to the “official” Cray release webcast, I’ve learned a bit more on the technicals.  Apparently, the CX1 will be released with the Harpertown/Wolfdale line of Intels and will eventually support Nehalems.  This will be a distributed memory system, but will not feature the SeaStar interconnect.  Instead, it will have onboard Infiniband and GigE.  The chassis will support up to eight blades of various sorts.  There is a single socket, the CC48, and dual socket, CC54, compute blade.  Both will have eight DIMM slots.  This means up to 64 cores, each with up to 64GB of memory.  There is a viz blade, the CV5401, with an integrated NVIDIA Quadro FX card.  There are also two different storage blades.  The first, CS5404, will support four 2.5″ SAS drives; the latter, CS5408, will support eight.

UPDATE: John West has written a feature Q&A with Cray on the CX1 at HPCwire.


  1. […] Cray Announces Mini-Supercomputer Line: Updated […]

  2. […] personal supercomputer specification (offered by a variety of vendors) from Nov 2008, Cray’s CX-1 from Sep 2008, SGI’s Scalable Workgroup Cluster from Aug of this year, and probably one or […]


  1. So, taking out the marketing speak, what they are saying is that Cray now sells Windows PC’s? Call it a deskside whatever you want, it’s still a PC running windows.

    So much for the whole “The Supercomputing Company” idea.

    If you buy a car you can get a keychain with your car on it. Will Cray do the same? Buy a Supercomputer Cray and get a Keychain Cray for free?

  2. Idea to power the datacenters.

    Strap some magnets to Seymore, wrap his coffin in copper wire, and let his spinning produce the power.

  3. It’s funny how you can joke about something and then watch it come semi true. I used to joke about porting Microsoft Compute Cluster to the Cray XT system. This isn’t an exact fit, but close. Windows Compute on a Cray branded mini system.


  4. Cray has attempted to enter the “small supercomputer” market many other times in the past. There are a number of customers running the Cray XD1 (Octigabay) and cluster systems sold to them by (generally former) Cray sales reps. And there were similar efforts in the pre-SGI days of Cray Research to grow the business with smaller systems.

    The problem has never been technical – its been how does a company set up to manufacture, market, sell, and service multi-million dollar supercomputers cost-effectively handle a system a fraction of that price? This was the problem with all these other attempts, and I expect will doom this attempt as well.

  5. The empty box with extra power supplies and a slidetray is $11K. Then you add three dual socket x86 boards and you’re over $25K. On top of that, there is no interconnect designed- in to make this ever be a low latency MPP system. It’s just a sad, costly pile of x86 boards. Marketing/repackaging hoax like the IBM iDataPlex. Very disappointing. True supercomputer engineers at Cray must be shooting themselves over this effluvia.

  6. I agree with the “Anonymous” commenter (there are several) that points out the problems of scale here. Cray is a small company that builds bespoke computers for well-heeled clientele. How now do they make and support “off-the-rack” in a way that doesn’t swamp the company?

    Partners. Let’s stipulate that the people that run Cray would have anticipated this problem (Pete’s smart, so are the rest of them). They know that high-end Cray can’t support these systems in volume. So they partner on the manufacturing (leaving their high end teams undisturbed) and partner on support with some already global support force specializing in high volume. They can then put in some engineering on the front end, and as the product takes off look for opportunities to more tightly integrate it into their high end lines. Perhaps ultimately taking the approach that SiCortex has taken with their SC0072 system and pouring the SeaStar into the CX1 to make it a true development platform for the XT line.

    Only time will tell about the other commenters’ arguments regarding value and market acceptance, but there are a variety of ways that Cray could field the CX1 without breaking its own high end model.

  7. “R”: You are right, this isn’t a high end machine. But this company is not a religious organization — it’s a public company. If they can make money on the CX1, or on lego models of the Cray 1 for that matter, then I say “hooray!” That’s more money that Cray will turn around and put into the next generation of high end designs.