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Cray reunites with AMD for new supercomputers

News Analysis
Apr 19, 20183 mins
AMDComputers and PeripheralsData Center

Cray just announced the Cray CS500 product line featuring AMD's Epyc 7000 processor.

cray cs500 supercomputer
Credit: Cray

Cray owes its survival to AMD. The company was bought by SGI in 1996, hollowed out, and spun off in 2000 with very little left. SGI had taken most of the talent and IP.

Desperate for a win, Cray began working with Sandia National Labs in 2002 to build a supercomputer based on x86 technology. Intel at the time was dismissive of 64-bit x86 and was promoting Itanium. AMD had other plans and was in the process of developing Athlon for desktops and Opteron for servers.

The project came to be known as Red Storm, starting with single-core Opterons and upgrading to dual- and quad-core CPUs as they hit the market. Red Storm ranked as high as number two on the Top 500 list of supercomputers. More important, it served as the basis for the XT3 line of supercomputers that revived Cray as a player in that field, and lit a fire under Intel as well.

Opteron, though, lost its way. Red Storm was retired in 2012. The last Cray supercomputer shipped with an Opteron processor was the XR6 and XK7 lines in 2013. Since then, Cray has been all-Intel.

Until now.

The Cray CS500 product line

Cray just announced the Cray CS500 product line featuring the Epyc 7000 processor. There have been other CS500 products featuring Intel Xeon processors, Intel Xeon Phi processors, Intel Stratix FPGAs, and Intel Xeons with Nvidia Tesla graphics processors.

The Epyc-system comes in a 2U chassis with four dual-socket nodes. Each processor has 32 cores with hyperthreading for 64 threads per processor. Each node supports two PCIe Gen3 x 16 slots with 200Gb network capability and HDD/SSD options and each processor supports eight channels of DDR4 memory.

Cray will also offer a one-node CS500 for large memory configurations, visualization, and service node functionality.

The Cray CS500 system with AMD Epyc processors will be generally available in summer 2018.

The Epyc processor is based on the new Zen core, a complete redesign that is giving AMD a badly needed performance boost. For too long it was coming out with processors that were barely competitive with Intel’s newest, then Intel would come out with a new generation and leave AMD in the dust. Its server business has fallen to almost untraceable levels as a result.

But in recent months AMD has racked up big server wins. Microsoft, Yahoo Japan, and China’s Baidu have all announced plans to use Epyc-powered servers for their cloud services. In addition, Dell EMC recently unveiled a line of single-and dual-socket Epyc-powered PowerEdge servers, and last year HP Enterprise announced plans for ProLiant servers.

Andy Patrizio is a freelance journalist based in southern California who has covered the computer industry for 20 years and has built every x86 PC he’s ever owned, laptops not included.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of ITworld, Network World, its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.