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Cray to introduce new Opteron supercomputer

Supercomputer specialist will unveil the first step in a plan to converge four disparate hardware families.

Cray on Monday is expected to announce two supercomputing developments, the new AMD Opteron-based XT4 shipping this year and the multi-threaded XMT due next year.

The two machines are two components of Cray's longer-term "Ranier" plan to converge its four disparate product lines into a single family. Indeed, the Opteron-based XT4 merges two existing lines, and the XMT itself is a variant of the XT4. The company plans to announce the systems at the SC06 supercomputing show in Tampa, Fla.

The convergence plan is part of Cray's effort to create a design whose varied hardware will adapt to different types of computing chores. The company's plan is already well under way, but full convergence won't happen unless Cray wins funding in the U.S. government's Defense Advanced Research and Development Agency (DARPA) supercomputing challenge.

The new Opteron system combines technology from the company's XT3 design, initially developed for Sandia National Laboratories' Red Storm supercomputer, and the XD1 systems from Cray's acquisition of OctigaBay, said Jan Silverman, senior vice president of corporate strategy.

The XT3 system links numerous low-end systems into a compute cluster using a high-speed network; Cray's own SeaStar chip ties the systems together and communicates with each Opteron processor using the high-speed HyperTransport technology. The XT4 uses a new chip, SeaStar2, that transfers data faster.

From the OctigaBay side, the XT4 Cray incorporated the ability to accommodate specialized chips called field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) that can be reconfigured to run particular calculations very fast. DRC Computing supplies the FPGA chips, Silverman said.

Cray is planning a successor to the XT4 code-named Baker. Its interconnect chip, the sequel to SeaStar2, is code-named Gemini and supports the new HyperTransport 3.0 interconnect technology, Silverman said.

Cray has had a difficult time surviving as a supercomputing specialist. After being bought and sold by Silicon Graphics, a Seattle-based company called Tera Computing acquired Cray and adopted the name. Tera's custom chips can perform particular types of processing such as text searching rapidly.

The next-generation system from the Tera lineage uses the same system boards as the rest of Ranier. Through AMD's Torrenza program, the new chips--code-named Threadstorm--plug into the same sockets used by the Opteron processors, Silverman said. That reduces the price by a factor of 10, Silverman said.

Before, the Tera technology "was just too expensive," Silverman said. "People just couldn't touch it."

The earlier Tera products, called MTA, could accommodate as many as 40 processors in a single system. The MTX generation, due in the second half of 2007, can be built with as many as 8,000 processors.

Each Ranier system board, called a blade, houses four processors. A total of 24 blades fit into each chassis. A massive single fan at the bottom of the chassis blows air up to cool the processors.

Cray also is working on a separate design from its original "vector" supercomputer lineage, a type of system that can perform particular tasks such as signal analysis or encryption very quickly. The new system, code-named Black Widow, is due in the second half of 2007.

If Cray wins the DARPA funding--it's in competition with Sun Microsystems and IBM--it will create a system that compiles a customer's software so it runs on the appropriate hardware.

"It builds a composite binary and just runs," Silverman said.