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Cray's 2009 odyssey begins with Opteron shock

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SC06 Cray has prepped two new high-end computers to satiate customers as it moves toward a grand but unproven future.

The high performance computing specialist has started hawking its Cray XT4 supercomputer and XMT "platform". Both products fit into Cray's "Rainier Program" in which the company has started to meld the bits and pieces of four, disparate product lines. By 2009, Cray hopes to have merged all the product sets under its "Cascade Program""

Moving back to the present, Cray has started shipping the Opteron-based XT4. The new system unifies the design of Cray's Opteron-based XT3 computers and its XD1 gear acquired in the OctigaBay buy.

Rather than providing separate systems with FPGAs (field programmable gate arrays) as Cray did with it the XD1, it will let customers plug FPGAs right into the Opteron sockets of the XT4. Cray plans to pull this off via its partnership with FPGA start-up DRC and has paid the small company millions of dollars for the work, according to our sources. Cray's SVP Jan Silverman confirmed that a financial partnership with DRC is in place without elaborating on details. Work between the companies is ongoing.

The XT4 systems can hold up to 30,000 Opteron processors. They also use Cray's SeaStar2 interconnect chip and a lightweight version of the Linux operating system.

Cray believes that its use of a custom Linux OS, a global file system and specialised parallel application debuggers are just some of the things that separate its gear from rivals and make it attractive to the high performance computing crowd in government, universities and big business.

Cray is also continuing on with its Tera (MTA) roots via the XMT platform.

XMT arrived from a partnership between Cray and an unnamed government partner. The system takes next-generation Tera gear code-named Threadstorm and plugs the chips right into Opteron sockets.

All told, this gives Cray a massively multi-threaded dynamo. Each chip in the XMT system can chew through 128 software threads. Cray can then scale XMT up to 8,000 processors leaving customers with a system that can throw one million concurrent threads at 128TBs of shared memory.

The government will likely use such a box to hunt for patterns in huge sets of data – to keep us safe or, er, just more watched.

Cray hopes that software partners will step up to help it hawk XMT systems outside of the usual, government realm. Each XMT rack has 96 sockets and when mixed with Threadstorm chips and Opterons will start at close to $1m, depending on memory.

By 2009, Cray hopes to roll out the first gear that's part of its Cascade plan. The company will unify all of its hardware product lines underneath a single rack in a bid to save customers money.

Cascade, however, largely hinges on whether or not Cray wins part of a lucrative government supercomputing contract. The results of the competition, which also involves IBM and Sun Microsystems, should be announced any day now.

They might even come at this week's Supercomputing conference being held in Tampa. ®

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