Intel Grows HPC With Cray Interconnect Deal

Intel is adding to its HPC portfolio with the purchase of the networking assets of supercomputer maker Cray

Chip giant Intel continues to make acquisitions to bolster its high-performance computing (HPC) capabilities, this time purchasing the networking assets of supercomputer maker Cray.

The two companies announced 24 April that Intel will spend $140 million (£88m) for Cray’s assets.

Interconnect Assets

For Intel, that will mean being able to add Cray’s HPC interconnect solutions – the high-speed connections between HPC systems – including its Gemini technology and the “Aries” interconnect products being developed in Cray’s upcoming next-generation “Cascade” supercomputer, which will be powered by Intel Xeon processors. Intel also will inherit 74 Cray employees who work on Cray’s interconnect team.

For Cray, the deal will strengthen the company’s financial position, enable it to leverage the expanded relationship with Intel as it builds its supercomputers going forward, and allow it to stay on target with its product road map. Cray will continue supporting current systems and building new supercomputers, including Cascade, according to company President and CEO Peter Ungaro.

“This agreement is evidence of the leadership position we’ve established in high-performance computing, and is an exciting win for our customers, our company and our shareholders,” Ungaro said in a statement. “By broadening our relationship with Intel, we are positioned to further penetrate the HPC market and expand on our industry-leading technologies in support of our Adaptive Supercomputing vision. Our product road map remains intact as we continue to build the highly differentiated, tightly integrated supercomputers that our customers have come to expect from Cray. This agreement also dramatically strengthens our balance sheet and increases our options for further growth, profitability and creating shareholder value.”

Cray has been a key player in the growing HPC space, offering systems running on processors from both Intel and smaller rival Advanced Micro Devices. Its AMD-based “Jaguar” supercomputer at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee was named the third-fastest system in the world, according to the Top500 list of the fastest supercomputers released in November 2011.

However, Cray also is competing with the likes of IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Fujitsu to build these massive and expensive HPC systems. In the fourth quarter of 2011, Cray saw its revenues and profits fall in comparison to the same period in 2010, due in large part to troubles AMD had toward the end of the year in supplying Opteron processors to the market. That issue delayed the completion of a large deal until after the end of the quarter, according to Cray officials.

HPC Competition

Intel also is facing competition from AMD and others in the HPC space, where sales volumes are not as high as in the mainstream data centre market, but where product prices are higher. Intel had made a number of previous acquisitions over the past few months designed to help it grow its HPC portfolio, including the $125 million (£77m) purchase in January of QLogic’s Infiniband business, another high-speed interconnect technology.

In July 2011, Intel officials announced the acquisition of Fulcrum Systems, which designs chips for Ethernet networking switches.

“Delivering continued advancement in high-performance computing, including breaking the Exascale barrier, requires tremendous innovation in interconnect technology,” Diane Bryant, vice president and general manager of Intel’s Data center and Connected System Group, said in a statement. “The acquisition of Cray’s industry-leading interconnect technology and expertise provides exceptional strategic assets that further enhance Intel’s HPC portfolio.”

Intel and Cray officials expect the deal to be completed by the end of the quarter.

The push to exascale computing is a key driver within Intel. The company is developing its Many Integrated Cores initiative to meet the increasing demand within the HPC and supercomputing space for greater parallel processing capabilities. During the Supercomputing 2011 show in November 2011, Intel executives showed off the first working samples of its “Knights Corner” silicon, which includes more than 50 processing cores.

Also at the show, they touted the Xeon E5 processors, which made their way into 10 systems on the Top500 list. The company officially launched the chip family in March, saying the Xeon E5-2600 chips offer 80 percent more performance and 50 percent better energy efficiency than their predecessors.

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