Cray intros Intel-based super

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AMD sends fruit basket, wants to talk.

Cray logoToday pure play HPC company Cray announced the release of its next generation mid-sized supercomputing platform, the CX1000. The announcement grows Cray’s investment in Intel’s chips from the lone deskside CX1 to a computer of more significant stature, edging into a space in Cray’s product line that has been dominated by AMD’s chips since the company refocused around its core high-end offering several years ago. It also looks like CX is going to be the family name for Cray’s Intel products, which by extension indicates that XT will be the AMD line.

You can load yours up with either Linux or Windows HPC Server, and the CX1000 comes in three flavors

SGI logoAvailable in one to four chassis in a single, standalone cabinet, the three compute configurations for the Cray CX1000 system include the Cray CX1000-C, Cray CX1000-G and the Cray CX1000-S. The compute-based Cray CX1000-C features the dual-socket Intel(R) Xeon(R) Processor 5600 series for scale-out cluster computing; the Cray CX1000-G utilizes the NVIDIA(R) Tesla(TM) GPUs for accelerator-based HPC; and the Cray CX1000-S offers users symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) nodes for up to 128 cores of “big memory” computing built on Intel’s QuickPath Interconnect (QPI) technology.

The CX1000-C packs 18 dual socket blades, each with up to 2.93 GHz Xeon 5600s and 48GB of RAM, into the 7U enclosure along with either an integrated 36-port QDR IB switch or a 24-port GbE switch. At 6 cores in the Westmere, the 2.93GHz chip should get you about 2.5 TFLOPS per module (2.93*6 cores *4 fl ops per clock *2 cores *18 blades), or a little over 10 TFLOPS per rack (4 modules in a rack). Load that up with 3.5 TB of RAM, and you have a nice, fat machine for the department near you. Opt for GPUs in there, and you can stretch your rack footprint even farther (for the right kind of problems).

But will it play in Peoria?

So, does this product make sense? Yes, I think so, but primarily from the perspective of Cray’s growing need to have Intel’s chips integrated into its high-end supers. While they certainly have done well with the XT line, AMD’s technology is starting to show its age. The next generation of silicon from AMD may well brighten AMD’s star, but neither AMD nor Intel has a very good track record of being on time with these sorts of things, and Cray needs to be able to offer both of the leading compute platforms in the market to protect both their business and to ensure that their customers can make the best choice for them in any given chip technology cycle.

On the merits though, a mid-range machine presents almost the same problems for Cray that the low-end systems do: sales and service. The company can contract service with the same worldwide computer service providers that all of the major system vendors use, so that’s not a competitive issue so much as a cost of doing business.

But sales presents a problem. This is the kind of product that, like the CX1, needs volume to be a profitable part of the business. Cray specializes in high touch sales for maybe 100 customers worldwide. It does this very well, and although the company is in better financial health than it has seen in decades, it can still ill-afford to build out a volume-oriented sales team. That means pushing the product through channel partners again, as they are doing with the CX1. The company hasn’t talked about CX1 sales volume to date with me (or anyone as far as I know), but I’m not hearing from loads of my friends and colleagues who are installing the things in their shops, and I’m inclined to believe that both the CX1 and the Dell-focused CX1-iWS are performing marginally at best.

The analogy I use is that channel partners are like day care for your kids: you may be confident that your day care is providing your child a safe, productive environment, but they don’t love your kid like you do. And so it is with channel partners.

No one sells a Cray like Cray.


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