New AMD Chips, Nvidia GPUs In Cray Supercomputer

Cray’s £118m Blue Waters machine will use new XK6 blades based on AMD and Nvidia technology

Cray will take over from IBM the project to build a supercomputer at the University of Illinois, the second significant federally funded project to feature the system maker’s technology.

Cray officials on 14 November announced that the company will build the supercomputer at the university’s National Centre for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) that will be installed over the first three quarters of 2012.

1 petaflop power

The supercomputer will form the basis for the National Science Foundation’s Blue Waters project, which calls for building a system that will offer a sustained performance of 1 petaflop (quadrillion floating point operations per second) and be used for a variety of research and engineering workloads.

The supercomputer will comprise a Cray XE6 system and the company’s new XK6 hybrid supercomputer, which features Advanced Micro Devices new 16-core OpTeron 6200 “Interlagos” processors and Tesla graphics processing units (GPUs) from Nvidia. The system will offer the sustained performance of 1 petaflop and a peak performance of 11.6 petaflops, according to Cray.

The announcement comes on the opening day of the SC 11 supercomputing show in Seattle, which is expected to draw some 10,000 attendees.

Cray came into the picture after IBM, which originally was contracted to build a petaflop-level supercomputer at the institution, backed out over disagreements concerning the cost and demands of the project. Cray officials said the multi-year contract is worth $188 million (£118m).

Cray’s announcement comes a month after officials announced the company had been awarded a $97 million contract to upgrade the massive Jaguar system at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. The upgraded system, which will be known as Titan, will also include the hybrid CPU-GPU XK6, which Cray introduced in May.

K Computer

Titan is expected to offer a peak performance of 10 to 20 petaflops, which would exceed Japan’s Fujitsu-built K Computer, which in June hit number-one on the Top500 list of the world’s most powerful supercomputer with a peak performance of 8.8 petaflops.

The system retained its position at the top on 14 November, when the latest Top500 list showed the K Computer – running at the Riken institute in Kobe, Japan – hitting a peak performance of 10.51 petaflops.

That system is powered by Fujitsu’s own SPARC64 IXfx chips, and does not use any graphics accelerators.

Both the Blue Waters and the Titan projects are proof points of Cray’s direction, according to company President and chief executive Peter Ungaro.

“We’re very excited to have been selected by the NCSA, NSF and the University of Illinois to deliver the Blue Waters system, which represents one of the largest contracts in our company’s history,” Ungaro said in a statement. “Together with the recently announced $97 million contract to upgrade the ‘Jaguar’ system at Oak Ridge National Laboratories, these contracts demonstrate Cray’s leadership position in supercomputing.”

As part of the Blue Waters announcement, Cray officials rolled out their fiscal outlook for 2012, which includes revenues in the range of $340 million to $360 million, of which the Blue Waters project will contribute about 40 percent.


The Blue Waters supercomputer will include 49,000 AMD as well as Nvidia’s next-generation “Kepler” Tesla GPU, which is expected to double the performance of Nvidia’s Fermi GPU. There will be more than 235 XE6 cabinets from Cray and more than 30 cabinets of the XK6 systems.

The supercomputer will offer 1.5 petabytes of total memory, Cray’s scalable CLE Linux environment and high-performance computing (HPC)-focused GPU/CPU Programming Environment.

Cray also will include its integrated Lustre parallel file system which will offer more than 25 petabytes of storage, and up to 500 petabytes of near-line storage and 300 gigabits per second of wide-area connections.