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Cray and SGI push upgrades to latest supers

Tickle me, Elmo

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Calhoun, Itasca, Blade, and Elmo

The Minnesota Supercomputing Institute is located at the Minneapolis campus of the UofM, where four other clusters run. They call them Calhoun, Itasca, Blade, and Elmo. The university has been playing the field with server makers. Itacsca is comprised of 1,091 ProLiant BL280c G6 blade servers from Hewlett-Packard, linked up with a 20 Gb/sec InfiniBand network.

It was rated at 74.4 teraflops on the latest Top 500 rankings. Calhoun is a more modest Altix XE 1300 cluster with 256 nodes, also using InfiniBand as the backbone of the cluster, while Blade is made up of 307 PowerPC-based BladeCenter LS21 servers using a much slower 10 Gb/sec InfiniBand interconnect. Elmo is a bit of a toy, and is comprised of six Sun Fire X4600 fat nodes linked by a Gigabit Ethernet network.

The university has another campus in Rochester, where IBM's AS/400 labs are located and where it builds and tests the BlueGene massively parallel Linux supers. Rochester is also home of the Mayo Clinic, and the UofM campus there not surprisingly has very tight ties with IBM, which donated a BlueGene/P super to that facility. It is not clear how much oomph this machine has, but it is not enough to make the Top 500 rankings, which suggests it is not a big box.

For SGI to get a big Altix UV 1000 win at the home of the Golden Gophers is making a deal in extremely hostile territory. (As was the case with HP getting the Itasca cluster deal.) It is a wonder, in fact, that the university is not in line to get a Power7 cluster along the lines of the petaflops-class "Blue Waters" machine that the University of Illinois - a rival in the Big Ten college football league - will be installing later this year. (You can read all about the guts of Blue Waters here.)

The real question about Cray and SGI is this: just how much upgrade money is out there for it to chase among its largest customers?

In the June 2010 Top 500 rankings, Cray had 21 systems with a total of 4.78 petaflops. Not that this is likely, but let's have some fun. Let's say all of these customers decide to upgrade their systems, doubling capacity and moving to XE6 systems. The numbers are a little tough to figure, but it looks like Cray is peddling a petaflops of oomph on a Baker/Gemini box for about $45m. So just selling a new box to everyone in the Top 500 could net somewhere around $430m. There are lots of smaller XT6m and XE6m customers to peddle stuff to, for sure, but this might only be another couple of hundred million.

What about SGI? The company had only 17 machines on the current Top 500 list, for a total of 2.15 petaflops of oomph. However, only three of these boxes are based on NUMAlink interconnects and these boxes have only 175.5 teraflops of oomph all told. Selling upgrades to these customers, while a good idea, is not going to generate much dough. But new customers sure can. The box going into the University of Minnesota, which is effectively a greenfield installation for a shared memory super, and is rated at around 42 teraflops by El Reg's estimation. SGI needs to make a lot more of these deals to make money. Fourteen down, many dozens to go. It wouldn't hurt SGI's numbers any if one of the big US nuke labs ponied up some cash to push the Altix UV to its limits for a cool $100m or so. ®

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