RealTime IT News

Cray Launches a 'Consumer' Supercomputer

This mass-market high performance computer is the size of a small refrigerator and packs nearly a teraflop of computing power. Best of all, it won't cost seven — or even six — figures.

All you want for Christmas is a supercomputer? Thanks to Cray, that's now possible. The CX1 is the venerable supercomputer vendor's first mass market high performance computer (HPC) designed for a mass market. The chassis is about the size of a college dorm refrigerator but has room for eight dual-socket blades.

Fully populated with 32 Xeon 5400 processors running at 3.5GHz, the CX1 can hit 786 gigaflops. That won't get it onto the Top 500 list of supercomputers, where the slowest machines still hit nine teraflops of performance, although a few years ago, the CX1 would have made the list.

Customers can configure the computer right from Cray's home page, just like if they were buying a Dell computer. The chassis starts at $8,000 and the individual blades run around the same amount, depending on configuration.

Customers have the choice of Red Hat Enterprise Linux or Microsoft Windows HPC Server 2008, both of which have clustering technologies for multiple rack or blade servers. Each chassis can have up to 4TG of attached storage.

Deploying a supercomputer is not like setting up your average server. It requires a considerable amount of testing and preparation. Cray wanted to eliminate that with the CX1. "One of the things we've tried to do is work on is what we call 'ease of everything'," Ian Miller, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Cray, told

"It's easy to configure and buy on the Web, and we have a complete operating system stack in the HPC server 2008 and/or Linux, which means we can get people up and running much more quickly," he added.

Miller said Cray sees two types of potential customers: The first is a user who is confined to the desktop with a big workstation running various HPC workloads and needs more performance, but is scared to take a leap to a cluster. The second type is a person tired of waiting to get on big servers. Large scale supercomputers have waiting lists of days or weeks before a person can get on to run their processing jobs, and if the person needs to go back for follow-up tasks, it's back in line.

IDC HPC analyst Steve Conway said low-end supercomputing is a market with very little supply. "There aren't a lot of products out there yet, even though it's a pretty attractive-sized market, but there definitely is a need," he said.

IDC estimates the HPC market will hit $3.1 billion by 2012, and not all of that will be Blue Gene/L or Roadrunner. "You've got two things going on: First, you've got a bottom-up market, which is people in small-ish firms that have problems they cannot solve on a desktop system and need something bigger like an HPC system, but they don't have people in house who can operate it. So they need something that's easy to buy and operate," said Conway.

"The second thing we're seeing is in big firms with people who use HPC but limit its use, and these folks want to drive the benefits of HPC deeper into the organization into workgroups and to key engineers and scientists, and that's what's making that market grow," he said.

The Cray CX1 will be available starting next month.