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 Inc. today announced that it teamed up with Microsoft Corp. and Intel Corp. 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 $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 [or] Linux.
Cray, which has been struggling financially since clustered Linux boxes became the rage in supercomputing a decade ago, is known for creating the fastest vector and parallel supercomputers in the world, and with the CX1, it is trying to push down into a market where newbies in life sciences, digital rendering, financial services, and other fields are playing around with supers for the first time.
It's also attempting to lure scientists and researchers with discretionary IT budgets to forget using shared, giant clusters and get their own box and tuck it in behind their desk where no one can see it to run their workloads locally. The personal supercomputer is not a new idea, but this is the first time that Cray is trying it out in the market.
If you want to cut off the air that Linux breathes, as Microsoft certainly does, one of the choke points where you try to get your Windows tentacles wrapped around is supercomputing, or what people for some reason now call high performance computing. But to take on Linux in HPC requires a slightly different tack than what worked for Windows in the data center.
Several trends are driving the demand for -- and ability of computer makers to provide -- this type of system.
IDC reports that the high-performance computing market grew 19 percent a year in the last four years, reaching nearly $12 billion in 2007. Top buyers include the biosciences, computer aided engineering and defense. Hewlett-Packard, Dell and IBM are all competitors in the market.
The CX1 will be the first Cray product that can be configured and purchased online, starting today. (It will begin shipping in four to six weeks.) The company is aiming for ease of deployment, sending the entire system in no more than six boxes. Cables will be color-coded and software pre-installed.
After more than two years of pushing its scientific computing efforts, Nvidias graphics processors will be offered as an option in the newest line of Cray desktop supercomputers. The chipmaker plans to announce next week that its Tesla chips can be used in the $25,00 Cray desktop supercomputer ... Nvidia has been in talks with Cray ever since the chipmaker announced its Tesla line of graphics processors in 2007, but that this is the first deal the two companies have inked.
[It's] a testament to both the demand for and the democratization of computing power. Indeed, people who earlier might have turned to grids or supercomputers for their problems are building powerful desktops with accelerator chips, while less scientifically minded folks, such as traders or product designers, who want to render things in 3-D are seeking more processing power.
This exciting new product is ... high performance and productivity computing that meets the needs of users, IT pros and developers by providing a highly integrated, familiar environment that is the right size and price for departmental and workgroup needs. The CX1 combines compute, storage, and visualization in a single integrated system thats designed for non-traditional environments like labs, offices. If space is a problem, not to worry, its compact enough to fit in a broom closet.
How can you get one?! Its as easy as shopping on Amazon.com. Customers can go online, order the CX1 system using a configurator and pay with credit card. If thats not making supercomputing mainstream, I dont know what is.
I work in the HPC industry. Standard computers have already taken over all of those jobs that used to require a supercomputer ... Clusters got really popular for a few years, but have really fallen out of favor at the high end ... this product IS a cluster. It looks like an attempt, by Cray, to get into the low end of the HPC market. Cray, like everyone else, would like to be the company taking market share away from itself, rather than let someone else take it.
Cray has made quite a comeback, in the last few years. The reason one thinks of Cray as a dinosaur, is that the HPC market is so much smaller now, relative to the entire IT industry, compared to the 1980s. Nonetheless, it's still an important niche.