Cray hoists Docker containers into supercomputers

Productivity gains without performance hits

SC15 Everyone loves Docker, including Cray, which today announced the addition of container-based virtualization to its official software stack.

The supercomputer builder is rolling the technology first to Cray XC customers and in 2016 to Cray S400, CrayXE and Cray XK systems.

The inclusion will aid wider productivity, chief strategy officer Barry Bolding told us today at SC15 in Austin, Texas.

Until now, Cray typically stripped out performance-dragging software libraries such as Python and R from very high-end systems to help scalability. With Docker, customers can run an entire software stack when required without interfering with the scalability of the Cray machine, says Bolding.

The company has one prominent customer that doubles up as a huge Docker enthusiast: the US National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC), which intends to use Docker for all its Cray workloads, according to Bolding.

NERSC engineers have beavered away in tandem with Cray on a project, aptly code-named “Shifter”, to extend Docker capabilities to HPC environments. Let's have a quote from Shane Canon, project engineer for advanced systems technology at NERSC, who says that these capabilities on HPC platforms will: "Lower the barriers for many workloads and will boost productivity. Containers can also help with the process of science itself, since it can ease reproducibility and simplify sharing.”

Cray's SC15 announcements are mostly about the software - yesterday it announced its support for OpenHPC, a new software initiative that Bolding describes are “giving some semblance of order to the HPC stack. (Check out our article about OpenHPC.)

But the company also had a couple of sales wins to parade – an XC40 installation at the University of Warsaw, and a Cray CS400 cluster at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany, which features the company’s first Intel Omni-Path shipment, Bolding says. ®

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