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Cray's Barcelona moment arrives with XT5 systems

Processors for all seasons

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Cray has taken a supercomputer-sized step toward its goal of providing multiple processor types in a single system with the introduction of its new XT5 line.

Customers will soon find Cray selling the XT5 MPP (massively parallel processor) system and the XT5h or hybrid system. The standard XT5 systems are built around 8-socket blades filled with AMD's new four-core "Barcelona" version of Opteron.

You can combine up to 1,112 processors in 6 cabinets to hit 43 Tflops of performance, while eating up 7 sq. meters of data center floor space. With the hybrid unit, you can slot in the Opteron-based blades as well as blades with FPGAs, vector processors and service/IO chips.

Before jumping too far ahead with the new gear, we should note that Cray still has plans to update its XT4 systems with AMD's lower-end four-core Opteron dubbed Budapest. Delays with the four-core chips have resulted in Cray looking to 2008 rather than 2007 for most of the upgrade work.

Back to the XT5, you can pick between four- and eight-socket blades, fitting 24 of the systems into each cabinet. The new blades support 4X the memory of the XT4 systems or 32GB per two-sockets.

The XT5 cabinets will hold XT4 blades or the more dense new blades. In addition, the revamped cabinets have a single, massive axial turbofan that eats up one quarter of the unit and replaces all of the smaller fans often tied to boxes in server clusters. Cray thinks it can cut down on component failures and noise by using this one, giant fan that sucks air out of the raised floor.

The hybrid systems come in a couple of flavors as well. You can equip one cabinet with XT5/4 blades, XR1 FPGA blades and SIO (service/IO) blades. The XR1 systems rely on FPGAs produced by start-up DRC that can plug right into Opteron sockets. The SIO blades handle service operations and hold Cray's revamped Seastar2+ interconnect, which boasts a 30 per cent performance boost over previous XT gear.

Another cabinet that meshes with the standard hybrid unit holds the X2 vector processor blades.

Cray runs Linux across its various boxes.

The company believes that customers can enjoy performance benefits by spreading their workloads across all of this different hardware. Some repeatable routines, for example, can be mapped onto an FPGA and see major acceleration when compared to a general purpose Opteron.

In 2009, Cray plans another major upgrade with its "Baker" systems that will ship with a revamped, much higher performing interconnect. After that, Cray looks to ship systems that truly combine all of its different processing types in a single box, while also including code that automatically divvies up software across all of these different chips for top results. ®

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