Cray's low-cost supercomputer

The CX1 high-performance machine features Intel processors and comes with Windows HPC Server 2008 preinstalled.

Cray Inc. has unveiled a relatively low-cost supercomputer that
works in office environments. The Cray CX1 high-performance
computing (HPC) machine features the use of Intel processors for
the first time and comes with Windows HPC Server 2008 preinstalled.
It also works with Red Hat Linux Version 5.


Cray has been working with Intel and Microsoft over the past six
months on the Cray CX1 project with the aim of producing an easier
to use and maintain supercomputer.


The new machine can be ordered online, comes with color-coded
cabling to facilitate setup and ships in six boxes. The Cray CX1
plugs into ordinary office power sockets (110/240 V). It has an
option to use noise cancellation technology to comply with office
noise levels.


The product aims to fill the parallel processing needs of
smaller companies that may lack in-house expertise to run larger
systems. It can be put next to, or under, a desk in an office or
lab or it can be installed in a rack-mount configuration in a
closet.


"Until today, a Cray system was something that scientists and
engineers shared with their colleagues," said Ian Miller, Cray's
senior vice president of sales and marketing. "Typically, [it was]
a large system housed in a computer room maintained by a skilled
staff of IT and applications experts and accessed by users as a
shared resource. With the CX1, the Cray can now be more
personal."


The CX1 uses Intel Xeon 5400 Series technology, with
the ability to incorporate "up to eight nodes and 16 Intel Xeon
processors, either dual or quad core," according to an announcement
issued by the companies. The system can enable "up to 64 gigabytes
of memory per node." Users can configure the CX1 with a mixture of
compute, visualization and storage blades, which can be swapped out
and upgraded as needed. The system "provides up to four terabytes
of internal storage."


The use of Microsoft's Windows HPC Server 2008, which currently
can be downloaded in public beta format, will help organizations
such as financial institutions unify back-office modeling with
front-office trading desks, according to the announcement.


Burton Smith, technical fellow at Microsoft, said that in the
past, computing power has been inhibited by the use of single-core
systems. Multiple cores are needed to get high performance -- a
concept that Smith called "minicore inflection."


"This inflection means that we have to rewrite most of the
software that we use for computing -- everything from operating
systems to applications and everything in between. That's a major
upheaval," Smith said in a press conference Webinar.


However, Smith added that the mainstream computing world has
increasingly moved into parallel computing. According to Smith,
that means that software developed for desktops and laptops with
parallel computing in mind can now be used in the HPC
environment.


"In fact, Microsoft believes that we can apply parallel
computing for the mainstream market to high-performance computing,"
Smith said.


Another major upheaval in computing is software as a service, he
added. High bandwidth connections are enabling the interconnection
of computers around the world, allowing delivery of services to
client systems wherever you happen to be. Microsoft is investing in
datacenters to enable this capability, Smith said.


"I believe, and Microsoft believes, that the onset of software
as a service will also enable high-performance computing systems to
be used to provide services in a couple of ways," Smith explained.
"One is to allow high-performance computer services to be used by
clients, but another is to let the high-performance computer
systems themselves access Web services, for example, to acquire
data from the Web."


The upshot is that mainstream applications will be able to run
on HPC systems and it will be easier to develop software as a
result of that, Smith concluded.


Cray's CX1 supercomputer can be ordered today and is priced from
$25,000 to $80,000. A three-year warrantee and certified next-day
support come standard with the machine. Further information on the
product is available here.

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About the Author

Kurt Mackie is the online news editor for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group sites, including Redmondmag.com, RCPmag.com and MCPmag.com.

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