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Cray lands $70m super deals

Beats IBM in next-gen petaflop push

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In a conference call with Wall Street analysts to talk about its financials along with these two deals and future product plans, president and chief executive officer Peter Ungaro was asked about how he felt about competitive wins against his old employer, IBM. "We are feeling pretty good about that right now," he said with a laugh.

Ungaro also talked vaguely about Cray's plans to upgrade its XT line of parallel supers and discussed its foray into the entry or personal supercomputer space with the CX1 Xeon-based baby blade super announced last September and its follow-on, the even less expensive CX1-LC that debuted last month.

First up, as you can see from the deals, Cray is ramping up its use of the Istanbul six-core Opterons. Cray had originally anticipated it would be able to get Istanbuls into the XT5 lineup at the end of the year, following a much later announcement by AMD, but the chip maker designer and seller was able to move up the Istanbul launch by a few months, and Cray was able to match the pace. Ungaro says that some early customers already have Istanbuls running in their XT machines and that support for the chips will be generally available in a few weeks.

The longer-term upgrade plan is a little vague, but the XT parallel supers will be upgraded sometime in the first half of 2010 and Ungaro characterized this upgrade as not being a big deal in terms of technology change. In the early part of the second half of 2010 - why Ungaro can't just say "in the third quarter with room for slippage" is beyond me - a major upgrade to the XT line is due, one with substantial changes in hardware and software and presumably based on the XT Opteron-Linux platform.

Ungaro also made it clear that Cray was not dropping its support for Opterons even though it did do a partnership deal with Intel back in April 2008 in the wake of the Budapest Opteron delays.

"Intel is part of the future roadmap in addition to AMD," Ungaro said.

He added that the future Intel-based supercomputers would come out around 2012 and would be part of a $250m contract that Cray won in November 2006 from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) alongside IBM, which got $244m. Both vendors have been tasked with putting petaflops scale supers into the field by 2010 under the contract.

IBM will be fielding a parallel machine based on the eight-core Power7 chip running AIX and Linux, dubbed Blue Waters and set to be installed at the University of Illinois. Cray was planning on a merged product called Cascade that put its Opteron, XMT Tera multithreaded engines, vector, and field programmable gate array engines into a single architecture.

Super shrinkage

Now, the Cascade machine will apparently use future Xeon processors and heaven only knows what. While this Cascade box is going to be two years later than planned, Cray is clearly going to be able to get to the two petaflops performance level that the DARPA contract calls for without resorting to a new architecture.

Cray also has its eyes set a lot lower than this in the baby super business. On the CX1 front, Ungaro says that the company now has 25 resellers signed up to peddle the boxes - more than he ever expected to be interested - and that it will take some time to get them trained on the boxes and ramped up to sell them. Perhaps one quarter to train and one or two to start building a pipeline.

Ungaro said that there has been a lot of interest around the CX1 machines, but that it would take time to convert interest to revenue and that Cray did not expect the baby supers to deliver any material revenues in 2009.

Cray does not seem interested in putting out an Opteron-based version of the CX1, but given that sometimes Opterons do better than Xeons, and that it has learned to have two sources for chips in high-end servers the hard way, you would think that a CO1 baby super would be in the works. We'll see. ®

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