Cray takes supercomputers to the desktop

Cray has teamed up with Microsoft and Intel to produce a desktop supercomputer

Think of supercomputers and you tend to think of multi-million dollar machines that easily take up a football field. With miles and miles of cabling and cooling systems running beneath the floors.

That's long been generally true, but not any more.

Supercomputer maker Cray Tuesday announced that it teamed up with Microsoft and Intel to produce a desktop supercomputer. That's right. It will sit on a desktop. And maybe just as surprising, it has a starting price of US$25,000.

The Cray CX1 supercomputer uses up to eight nodes and 16 Intel Xeon processors -- either dual-core or quad-core. It's the first Cray machine to use Intel processors. The CX1 has up to 4 terabytes of internal storage and 64 gigabytes of memory per node. The machine also comes pre-installed with Windows HPC Server 2008 and interoperates with Linux.

"Rather than constantly pushing upwards and out, here's someone pushing down onto the desktop with a supercomputer," said Rob Enderle, an analyst at the Enderle Group. "We could find that existing [Cray supercomputer] customers will buy these to do work on a $25,000 machine to free up space on their $25 million supercomputer. It could help them balance their load."

According to Cray, studies by the Council on Competitiveness and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) found that many organizations and departments in large firms that could use supercomputers were locked out by the high cost and a lack of in-house experts to run them. According to Cray, the CX1 was designed from the ground-up to tackle these problems.

"IDC research shows that HPC has been one of the highest-growth IT markets during the past five years and the segment for HPC systems priced below $100,000 is headed for continued growth," said Earl Joseph, IDC's HPC program vice president, in a statement.

By comparison, the world's most powerful supercomputer, the IBM-built Roadrunner, carries a price tag of approximately US$120 million. Run at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the hybrid system runs AMD Opteron processors and Cell chips, and earlier this year sustained a speed of 1.026 quadrillion calculations per second. That's about twice as fast as the next-fastest supercomputer, IBM's BlueGene/L, which is based at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Cray did not release performance specs on the CX1.

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