Cray Answers Mid-Market’s Call

By Tiffany Trader

May 7, 2013

Earlier today Cray announced the XC30-AC (air-cooled) supercomputer, a pared-down version of its top-of-the-line XC30 system, aimed at the technical enterprise market space. The news was timed to coincide with the 2013 Cray User Group (CUG) meeting in Napa Valley, California.

The Cray XC30-AC Air-Cooled Supercomputer

Where the XC30-LC (liquid-cooled) product is targeted at Fortune 100 companies, the air-cooled version is intended for the rest of the Top 1000, notes Jay Gould, Cray’s senior product marketing, in an interview with HPCwire. These “mid-market” systems were previously designated as m-versions.

What’s different about the XC30 series, says Gould, “is we can scale up to massive machines like we always have, but now we can also configure down to more aggressively priced machines by customizing the packaging and introducing cost-savings. Previously, the -m was an attempt to size down the machine, people would talk about mid-range, and minis, etc.

“Technical enterprise is what we’re shooting at, and we don’t want anyone who coughs up $500 thousand to $3 million for a Cray to think that they got a diminutive mini version of something or a neutered version of a supercomputer.”

To Cray, “technical enterprise” encompasses pricing, performance and applications. The segment ranges roughly from $500,000 systems to $3 million systems. Above that line lies Cray’s high-end systems. The AC systems will initially extend from 20-200 teraflops, a window that will expand along with Moore’s Law-timed processor iterations.

The AC naming convention follows in the footsteps of Cray’s rebranded Appro systems, but Gould was clear that the AC system leverages all the technology innovation and investment of the XC30 series, optimized for the technical enterprise space.

“We’re economizing all this high-end innovation that we developed for our flagship line and finding ways to make it more aggressively priceable for smaller markets, smaller datacenters and a new class of users within the existing spaces that we already play,” he adds.

Built on the pillars of the XC30 architecture, the AC system uses the same processor technology, the same compute board, and the same processor daughter cards. It is this “Adaptive Supercomputing” strategy that Gould says allows Cray to turn on a new customer trend or industry movement or support new devices without having to redesign the architecture from scratch. Cray has already pre-announced its support for the Intel Phi and NVIDIA GPUs in XC30 and that IP will port straight to the air-cooled version as well. The I/O blades are the same, as is the HPC-optimized Aries interconnect, but the Dragonfly network technology holds an important distinction.

Dragonfly was designed with three ranks. The first rank combines blades within a single chassis via a backplane, while the second rank connects local chassis to each other via passive copper electrical cables. The third rank – a network built of active optical cables that provides row-to-row communication – is intended only for the most massive supercomputers. For smaller systems, like the XC30-AC, this very expensive technology is overkill.

“So while there is this difference in the network topology, it’s still the same architecture so everything is compatible going up. The same software, same software stack, same partners, same ISV vendors, and same middleware vendors are all in play. The Cray ecosystem remains in tact,” says Gould, “as does the Cray reliability, service and support.”

Next >> the Configuration

In addition to employing a less expensive network implementation, the Cray XC30-AC offering is distinguished by its economized packaging, cooling and power options. Each cabinet is self-sufficient: a single high-efficiency fan sucks air in from the bottom and blows it vertically through the cabinet and out the top. There’s no need for liquid coolants or plumbing infrastructure, which is what allows Cray to target new customer types. There’s also no requirement for raised floor datacenters, in fact these systems could even run on cement slabs in a garage.

What ultimately makes this configuration possible is that the cabinets are smaller and less densely populated. The flagship systems are stuffed with blades, as many as will fit, which necessitates a powerful cooling system. In this setup there are 16 vertical compute blades per cabinet, relying on a single fan for cooling. Because the cabinets are self-sufficient, up to eight cabinets can be joined without the need for additional cooling support. To accommodate smaller datacenters or server rooms, the XC30-AC offers a lower-power 208-volt option in addition to the 480-volt standard.

Cray designed the AC version to meet the needs of a new classes of users. There’s a big move to leverage modeling and simulation across multiple verticals. In manufacturing, energy, finance and the pharmaceutical industry, businesses are looking to transition from physical to virtual prototyping to improve ROI and boost time to market. Whether it’s designing the perfect golf club head or developing the world’s most sophisticated turbines, users want to be able to simulate those things from the bottom up rather than building multiple prototypes and dealing with lengthy development cycles.

Cray guides new customers through the selection process by sifting through all of their requirements to understand their application requirements and use model.

“Sometimes they just know at a high level what they’re shooting for,” says Gould. “In other cases, they’ve got a really specific request for information or request for bid where they itemize everything because they’ve done this a lot.

“Some of the new classes of users that we’re talking about haven’t necessarily used high-performance computing before so they don’t even know all of the questions to ask when learning about a system. So when we go through the engagement, we find out whether they have a cement slab floor in their computer room or a raised floor with air flow everywhere, whether they have liquid plumbing or not, so we can guide them based on their performance requirements and their budget to the right solution for their application.”

Not every organization can operate a hundred million or three hundred million or billion dollar datacenter, says Gould. “Some of these new customers don’t even call it a datacenter. They may call it a computer room, computer lab, or server room.”

Additionally, not every computing requirement can be addressed with a cluster. Clusters are a nice fit for capacity type applications, a use case that Cray affirmed when it acquired Appro. But as Gould points out, the supercomputing vendor is seeing new demands from existing customers and from interested prospects that can only be addressed by a capability-optimized computing platform.

Next >> Compatibility

The scaled-down XC-30 should appeal to customers who get time on large Cray machines at national labs. While the advantages of leadership-class systems like Titan or Blue Waters are undeniable, the allocation process has the downside of long wait times and other constraints. The AC racks will allow customers to own their own machine and be 100 percent in control of their schedule and time to market, and they can still utilize the big machines for larger-scale workloads.

Gould stresses that there is complete compatibility from two to 200 cabinets and beyond, ultimately using the same software, the same IP, and same kind of networking.

“It’s going to be a compatible migration, not starting from scratch and porting your applications all over again,” he notes.

This level of compatibility was no accident, as Gould explains:

“We went into this whole portfolio over the last several years open-minded, knowing that we wanted to do a high-end version and a more frugal technical-enterprise version,” he says. “Instead of building the world’s biggest, fastest supercomputer and then trying to figure out how to cut it into pieces, we built it from the ground-up so we could configure single cabinets with air-cooling all the way up to the world’s biggest machines – 480-some-odd cabinets – and be able to be flexible enough to change the networking for the bigger machines and scale down the networking for the smaller machines. That took a lot of time and investment and that was one of the biggest challenges: ‘how do you use one technology for everything?’ and I think we hit this very well.”

The product line is available now and is already shipping. Early customers include a global consumer electronics company and a global financial services company, highlighting the move to non-traditional HPC segments. Cray wants to do its part to ensure that innovation is not limited to the top 100 companies. There is a lot of room for growth and there are many Fortune 1000 companies with an emerging need for a class of supercomputers that fits within their datacenters and their budgets.

“In the macro view,” says Gould. “HPC [spending] is still going up, and the region we are targeting – the half-million to three million dollar price-point – is actually a growth area, not regressing or shrinking, and this is part of our strategic plan to continue to target the right applications and the right integrated systems for those markets.”

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Machine Learning at HPC User Forum: Drilling into Specific Use Cases

September 22, 2017

The 66th HPC User Forum held September 5-7, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at the elegant and historic Pfister Hotel, highlighting the 1893 Victorian décor and art of “The Grand Hotel Of The West,” contrasted nicely with Read more…

By Arno Kolster

Google Cloud Makes Good on Promise to Add Nvidia P100 GPUs

September 21, 2017

Google has taken down the notice on its cloud platform website that says Nvidia Tesla P100s are “coming soon.” That's because the search giant has announced the beta launch of the high-end P100 Nvidia Tesla GPUs on t Read more…

By George Leopold

Cray Wins $48M Supercomputer Contract from KISTI

September 21, 2017

It was a good day for Cray which won a $48 million contract from the Korea Institute of Science and Technology Information (KISTI) for a 128-rack CS500 cluster supercomputer. The new system, equipped with Intel Xeon Scal Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPE Prepares Customers for Success with the HPC Software Portfolio

High performance computing (HPC) software is key to harnessing the full power of HPC environments. Development and management tools enable IT departments to streamline installation and maintenance of their systems as well as create, optimize, and run their HPC applications. Read more…

Adolfy Hoisie to Lead Brookhaven’s Computing for National Security Effort

September 21, 2017

Brookhaven National Laboratory announced today that Adolfy Hoisie will chair its newly formed Computing for National Security department, which is part of Brookhaven’s new Computational Science Initiative (CSI). Read more…

By John Russell

Machine Learning at HPC User Forum: Drilling into Specific Use Cases

September 22, 2017

The 66th HPC User Forum held September 5-7, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at the elegant and historic Pfister Hotel, highlighting the 1893 Victorian décor and art o Read more…

By Arno Kolster

Stanford University and UberCloud Achieve Breakthrough in Living Heart Simulations

September 21, 2017

Cardiac arrhythmia can be an undesirable and potentially lethal side effect of drugs. During this condition, the electrical activity of the heart turns chaotic, Read more…

By Wolfgang Gentzsch, UberCloud, and Francisco Sahli, Stanford University

PNNL’s Center for Advanced Tech Evaluation Seeks Wider HPC Community Ties

September 21, 2017

Two years ago the Department of Energy established the Center for Advanced Technology Evaluation (CENATE) at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). CENAT Read more…

By John Russell

Exascale Computing Project Names Doug Kothe as Director

September 20, 2017

The Department of Energy’s Exascale Computing Project (ECP) has named Doug Kothe as its new director effective October 1. He replaces Paul Messina, who is stepping down after two years to return to Argonne National Laboratory. Kothe is a 32-year veteran of DOE’s National Laboratory System. Read more…

Takeaways from the Milwaukee HPC User Forum

September 19, 2017

Milwaukee’s elegant Pfister Hotel hosted approximately 100 attendees for the 66th HPC User Forum (September 5-7, 2017). In the original home city of Pabst Blu Read more…

By Merle Giles

Kathy Yelick Charts the Promise and Progress of Exascale Science

September 15, 2017

On Friday, Sept. 8, Kathy Yelick of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, delivered the keynote address on “Breakthrough Science at the Exascale” at the ACM Europe Conference in Barcelona. In conjunction with her presentation, Yelick agreed to a short Q&A discussion with HPCwire. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

DARPA Pledges Another $300 Million for Post-Moore’s Readiness

September 14, 2017

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched a giant funding effort to ensure the United States can sustain the pace of electronic innovation vital to both a flourishing economy and a secure military. Under the banner of the Electronics Resurgence Initiative (ERI), some $500-$800 million will be invested in post-Moore’s Law technologies. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Breaks Ground for Complex Quantum Chemistry

September 14, 2017

IBM has reported the use of a novel algorithm to simulate BeH2 (beryllium-hydride) on a quantum computer. This is the largest molecule so far simulated on a quantum computer. The technique, which used six qubits of a seven-qubit system, is an important step forward and may suggest an approach to simulating ever larger molecules. Read more…

By John Russell

How ‘Knights Mill’ Gets Its Deep Learning Flops

June 22, 2017

Intel, the subject of much speculation regarding the delayed, rewritten or potentially canceled “Aurora” contract (the Argonne Lab part of the CORAL “ Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Reinders: “AVX-512 May Be a Hidden Gem” in Intel Xeon Scalable Processors

June 29, 2017

Imagine if we could use vector processing on something other than just floating point problems.  Today, GPUs and CPUs work tirelessly to accelerate algorithms Read more…

By James Reinders

NERSC Scales Scientific Deep Learning to 15 Petaflops

August 28, 2017

A collaborative effort between Intel, NERSC and Stanford has delivered the first 15-petaflops deep learning software running on HPC platforms and is, according Read more…

By Rob Farber

Oracle Layoffs Reportedly Hit SPARC and Solaris Hard

September 7, 2017

Oracle’s latest layoffs have many wondering if this is the end of the line for the SPARC processor and Solaris OS development. As reported by multiple sources Read more…

By John Russell

Six Exascale PathForward Vendors Selected; DoE Providing $258M

June 15, 2017

The much-anticipated PathForward awards for hardware R&D in support of the Exascale Computing Project were announced today with six vendors selected – AMD Read more…

By John Russell

Russian Researchers Claim First Quantum-Safe Blockchain

May 25, 2017

The Russian Quantum Center today announced it has overcome the threat of quantum cryptography by creating the first quantum-safe blockchain, securing cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, along with classified government communications and other sensitive digital transfers. Read more…

By Doug Black

Top500 Results: Latest List Trends and What’s in Store

June 19, 2017

Greetings from Frankfurt and the 2017 International Supercomputing Conference where the latest Top500 list has just been revealed. Although there were no major Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Clears Path to 5nm with Silicon Nanosheets

June 5, 2017

Two years since announcing the industry’s first 7nm node test chip, IBM and its research alliance partners GlobalFoundries and Samsung have developed a proces Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Graphcore Readies Launch of 16nm Colossus-IPU Chip

July 20, 2017

A second $30 million funding round for U.K. AI chip developer Graphcore sets up the company to go to market with its “intelligent processing unit” (IPU) in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Debuts TPU v2 and will Add to Google Cloud

May 25, 2017

Not long after stirring attention in the deep learning/AI community by revealing the details of its Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), Google last week announced the Read more…

By John Russell

Google Releases Deeplearn.js to Further Democratize Machine Learning

August 17, 2017

Spreading the use of machine learning tools is one of the goals of Google’s PAIR (People + AI Research) initiative, which was introduced in early July. Last w Read more…

By John Russell

EU Funds 20 Million Euro ARM+FPGA Exascale Project

September 7, 2017

At the Barcelona Supercomputer Centre on Wednesday (Sept. 6), 16 partners gathered to launch the EuroEXA project, which invests €20 million over three-and-a-half years into exascale-focused research and development. Led by the Horizon 2020 program, EuroEXA picks up the banner of a triad of partner projects — ExaNeSt, EcoScale and ExaNoDe — building on their work... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Amazon Debuts New AMD-based GPU Instances for Graphics Acceleration

September 12, 2017

Last week Amazon Web Services (AWS) streaming service, AppStream 2.0, introduced a new GPU instance called Graphics Design intended to accelerate graphics. The Read more…

By John Russell

Cray Moves to Acquire the Seagate ClusterStor Line

July 28, 2017

This week Cray announced that it is picking up Seagate's ClusterStor HPC storage array business for an undisclosed sum. "In short we're effectively transitioning the bulk of the ClusterStor product line to Cray," said CEO Peter Ungaro. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

GlobalFoundries: 7nm Chips Coming in 2018, EUV in 2019

June 13, 2017

GlobalFoundries has formally announced that its 7nm technology is ready for customer engagement with product tape outs expected for the first half of 2018. The Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This