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Cray, Intel ink supercomputer deal

Posted: 30 Apr 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:supercomputer? processor? multicore? Intel-Cray deal?

Cray Inc. and Intel Corp. have partnered to develop a range of supercomputers and processor and interconnect technologies. As part of the deal, Cray has licensed Intel's QuickPath Interconnect (QPI) technology and pledged to use Intel processors in a range of systems starting as early as 2011.

Under the deal, Cray and Intel will develop ways to link Intel's QPI processor interconnect to Cray's systems-level interconnect. The companies will also collaborate on new processor technologies, said Cray CEO Peter Ungaro. Some of Cray's systems use proprietary multithreading processors customized for the needs of supercomputers.

'Not a switch'
To date Cray has been using processors from Advanced Micro Devices and their HyperTransport chip interconnect. Under the new deal, Cray expects to use Intel CPUs in its Cascade-class systems being developed as part of a high-profile government program.

Ungaro said the company will continue to use AMD processors for the foreseeable future. "This is not a switch," he said. "We will continue to support both companies' processors going forward, and we will let customers chose which ones best fit their needs."

"This is not just Cray selecting Intel as a vendor. It is much more of a design relationship, embracing new capabilities we want to bring to market" said Ian Miller, senior VP of sales and marketing for Cray.

The deal grew out of engineering meetings between the two companies that included discussions of the company's long-term road maps, Miller added. Intel would not disclose any details about technologies it discussed as part of those meetings.

Shift to Intel
Just 18 months ago, Cray and IBM split a nearly $500 million award from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) to build separate commercial supercomputers under the agency's High Productivity Computing Systems program. Cray detailed plans to DARPA for a system based on AMD processors, heavily leveraging AMD's HyperTransport interconnect for fast chip-to-chip connections. Two years ago, Cray chose AMD for the so-called Cascade system it proposed as part of its Darpa bid. Winning the project was seen by some observers as crucial to the survival of the supercomputer maker which was facing financial troubles.

Cray is seeking approval from Darpa for its plans to shift the Cascade design to Intel processors using QPI that provides links at up to 6.4GTransfers/s.

"We talked to DARPA both before and after this Intel agreement," said Ungaro, adding it may take a few months to finish a modified agreement with Darpa.

Two years ago, Cray said it chose AMD for Cascade after a months-long evaluation of both companies' road maps.

"We were serious about switching to Intel if that made more sense, [but] we really like what AMD is doing," said Steve Scott, Cray's chief technology officer, in an interview in early 2006. "We are very happy with the AMD processor cores and systems interfaces. They have been leading Intel for a few years, and we see that likely to continue," he added at that time.

Ungaro said Intel has been making an aggressive move into the high performance computing space, beefing up a business unit to focus on it, a move that helped motivate the deal. Responding to competition from AMD, Intel has also ramped up its efforts both on multicore processors and the QPI interconnect which will appear on Intel server chips starting this fall.

The shift to Intel for Cascade-class systems could be a tricky one for Cray. The company previously said Cascade would be the culmination of developments in several supercomputer designs in the works over the next few years, including the XT3 Red Storm system which uses AMD processors.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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