Cray Rolls Out AMD-Based CS500; More to Follow?

By John Russell

April 18, 2018

Cray was the latest OEM to bring AMD back into the fold with introduction today of a CS500 option based on AMD’s Epyc processor line. The move follows Cray’s introduction of an ARM-based system (XC-50) last November. Cray, of course, is a long-time Intel partner and still a heavy Intel technology user. Nevertheless, the latest move illustrates AMD’s fast-growing strength after returning to the datacenter market less than a year ago; it also highlights emerging diversity in the microprocessor landscape.

The CS500 line is positioned as Cray’s supercomputer cluster offering the widest choice of configurations. The AMD-based CS500 will use the Epyc 7000 line which features high memory bandwidth and high IO. By way of comparison, Intel’s Skylake has six channels per socket and the AMD processor has eight.“We are seeing a lot of interest in the upper level [processors] like the 7601 and some others but really we are targeting the whole 7000 space,” said Chris Lindahl, Cray product marketing director. He singled out computational fluid dynamics as an example of an application area where AMD’s Epyc line would perform well and emphasized it would be able to leverage the well-established x86 market.

For AMD, the announcement is another stride forward in its return to the datacenter which began last June with launch of Epyc. Several OEM/ODMs and a handful of major hyperscalers, including for example Azure and Baidu, have either announced plans or are now offering Epyc-based products and services.

Steve Conway, senior vice president of research at Hyperion Research, said, “We’ve been seeing more interest in AMD from HPC buyers over the past year. The Cray announcement shows that AMD is targeting HPC as well as hyperscale with Epyc. Both Cray and AMD are presumably responding to customer demand. The decision to offer EPYC processors in the Cray CS500 product line expands its market opportunities by offering buyers an important new choice. Epyc processors are expressly designed to provide highly scalable, energy-and-cost-efficient performance in large and midrange clusters.”

AMD trumpeted the deal. “Cray’s leadership in supercomputing is well known and AMD is thrilled to be working with them on the CS500 cluster system. Cray is the first system vendor to offer an optimized programing environment for AMD EYPC processors, which is a distinct advantage,” said Scott Aylor, corporate vice president and general manager, datacenter and embedded solutions, AMD. He echoed Lindahl saying “[Epyc is] very well suited for CFD, finite element analysis, oil and gas – all areas where we see the CS500 portfolio being a good marriage of capabilities.”

The new Cray CS500 cluster systems with AMD EPYC 7000 processors provide “four dual-socket nodes in a 2U chassis, each node supporting two (2) PCIe Gen3 x 16 slots (200Gb network capability) and HDD/SSD options. AMD EPYC 7000 processors support up to 32 cores and eight DDR4 memory channels per socket. The CS500 line will also include a 2U chassis with one node for large memory configurations, visualization, and service node functionality to complement the compute node form factor.”

AMD and Cray are hardly strangers. The Titan supercomputer at Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility, stood up in 2012/13, remains the fastest (17.6 Linpack petaflops) U.S. supercomputer and is a Cray XK7 powered by AMD Opteron processors and Nvidia Kepler GPUs. It is perhaps natural to wonder if AMD chips – microprocessors or accelerators – might turn up in other Cray offerings and perhaps reinvigorate Cray’s Top500 aspirations. It’s expected that Summit, the DoE supercomputer based on IBM Power technology and Nvidia GPUs, will soon displace Titan as the top performing U.S. supercomputer.

Lindahl said there were no current plans for use of AMD Epyc in other Cray product lines (XC series, CS-StormUrika) or for use of IBM Power microprocessors. Asked about plans to use and AMD GPUs in Cray’s accelerated platforms, Lindahl said, “Not at this point. We do continue to evaluate. There are lots of considerations there.” AMD’s Radeon line has also enjoyed strong market traction lately.

For the moment, Cray is emphasizing Epyc’s potential in HPC and the traditional x86 landscape. Fred Kohout, SVP products and CMO, Cray, said, “Our decision to offer AMD EPYC processors in our CS500 product line is emblematic of Cray’s commitment to the community to deliver a comprehensive line of high-density systems with an optimized programming environment to deliver the required performance and scalability.”

Lindahl said, “We see opportunity where memory-bound aps and ISV codes come in to play. We think the (Epyc 7000’s] memory bandwidth is really strong for workflows like CFD and those types of ISV codes that already have been optimized for x86 platforms. [Users] can take advantage of that right away without having to do anything to change the code.”

Importantly, said Lindahl, the Epyc line works well with the Cray Programing Environment (tools and libraries) and noted that few tweaks were needed to accommodate the 7000 line. He said Cray may introduce CPE enhancements for the AMD chips later. Bright cluster is available as management option, but without the deep learning extension, which Cray does support in the CS-Storm line.

Availability for the Epyc-based CS500 is scheduled for the summer. Pricing was not disclosed.

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