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Cray preps new Opteron-based product line

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Cray has given AMD's Opteron chip a big vote of confidence, saying it will roll out a new line of supercomputers based around the product.

In 2004, Cray will begin selling systems with anywhere from 64 to more than 10,000 Opteron processors. All of the supercomputer-style systems will have a custom interconnect developed by Cray to deliver the kind of internal bandwidth needed for complex technical computing tasks. The decision to roll out the Opteron-based product line follows a deal Cray won last year to create a 10,000-plus processor system for Sandia National Labs.

"These products won't be for everyone, but we think there are a decent number of customers out there," said Steve Conway, a spokesman at Cray.

Cray is trying to meet the demands of customers that cannot rely on loosely-coupled clusters of commodity hardware or clusters of SMP systems for their computing problems. Even relatively tightly-coupled clusters tend to see processor performance outpace memory and I/O performance, which is why Cray uses a MPP (massively parallel processing) architecture. Cray wants to create a single computer that uses commodity parts where it can - Opteron - and custom technology - such as the interconnect - where it has to.

The sweet-spot for the new line will be about 200 processors per computer, Conway said. This is a far cry from the massive Red Storm system being built for Sandia, but Cray is prepared to create computers that large should customer demand arise.

"We can scale up several times beyond (Red Storm)," Conway said.

Cray expects customers to come from the scientific computing, engineering and government markets. It won't say exactly when in 2004 the systems will be available or provide any more detail on configurations at this time. The company did, however, confirm that SuSE Linux's Enterprise Server product will be the OS of choice.

The use of Opteron chips will give Cray customers the option of running 32bit or 64bit code, which was one reason the company is bullish about the products.

"Having both options available is a home run," Conway said.

AMD's Opteron chip appears to have outpaced Intel's 64bit Itanium in the high performance computing market. Over the past three years, Intel has managed to carve out a small niche for its high-end product, but Opteron shipments are already surpassing Itanic sales. ®

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