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Cray places order for Opteron Helper

FPGA supercomputer booster

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Cray has turned to a small start-up for possible help with its grand plan to win a multi-million dollar contract from the US government.

Cray this week announced that it will use a specialized coprocessor from DRC to slot into its Opteron-based systems. The DRC product – an FPGA (field programmable gate array) module – will allow Cray's supercomputers to churn through specific workloads such as algorithms and subroutines at a much quicker pace than standard Opteron chips alone. Cray plans to use FPGA-ready servers as one piece of its "Cascade" project that is competing with rival projects from Sun Microsystems and IBM for a piece of a $200m DARPA contract.

Cray has been going the FPGA route for quite awhile, and, in fact, purchased OctigaBay in 2004 to boost these efforts. The OctigaBay gear was turned into the XD1 systems, which can have up to 144 Opteron chips. Each XD1 chassis can currently hold up to six Xilinx Virtex-4 FPGAs.

Now, however, customers will use the DRC FPGA modules in Cray's future Cascade gear. DRC has separated itself from other companies by creating a module that plugs right into Opteron sockets. We wrote about the DRC product last month in detail.

Cray expects the DRC product to plug into its SeaStar interconnect.

"Interfacing FPGAs directly into Cray's interconnect allows multiple system processors to interact with multiple FPGAs in any ratio the customer may require," said Jan Silverman, an SVP at Cray.

Cray must like what it sees in the "industry standard" sort of approach presented by DRC. The start-up only employs about 13 people at the moment, although it's looking to bulk up staff due to heightened recent interest in its gear.

Cray declined to comment on the financial terms behind the DRC deal or whether or not it made an investment in the company. ®

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