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Cray Unveils CX1 Supercomputer for Office Use

Cray Inc., in conjunction with Intel and Microsoft, on Tuesday unveiled a relatively low-cost supercomputer that works in office environments. The Cray CX1 high-performance computing (HPC) machine features the use of Intel processors for the first time and comes with Windows HPC Server 2008 preinstalled. It also works with Red Hat Linux Version 5.

Cray has been working with Intel and Microsoft over the past six months on the Cray CX1 project with the aim of producing an easier to use and maintain supercomputer.

The new machine can be ordered online, comes with color-coded cabling to facilitate setup and ships in six boxes. The Cray CX1 plugs into ordinary office power sockets (110/240 V). It has an option to use noise cancellation technology to comply with office noise levels.

The product aims to fill the parallel processing needs of smaller companies that may lack in-house expertise to run larger systems. It can be put next to, or under, a desk in an office or lab or it can be installed in a rack-mount configuration in a closet.

"Until today, a Cray system was something that scientists and engineers shared with their colleagues," said Ian Miller, Cray's senior vice president of sales and marketing. "Typically, [it was] a large system housed in a computer room maintained by a skilled staff of IT and applications experts and accessed by users as a shared resource. With the CX1, the Cray can now be more personal."

The CX1 uses Intel Xeon 5400 Series technology, with the ability to incorporate "up to eight nodes and 16 Intel Xeon processors, either dual or quad core," according to an announcement issued by the companies. The system can enable "up to 64 gigabytes of memory per node." Users can configure the CX1 with a mixture of compute, visualization and storage blades, which can be swapped out and upgraded as needed. The system "provides up to four terabytes of internal storage."

The use of Microsoft's Windows HPC Server 2008, which currently can be downloaded in public beta format, will help organizations such as financial institutions unify back-office modeling with front-office trading desks, according to the announcement.

Burton Smith, technical fellow at Microsoft, said that in the past, computing power has been inhibited by the use of single-core systems. Multiple cores are needed to get high performance -- a concept that Smith called "minicore inflection."

"This inflection means that we have to rewrite most of the software that we use for computing -- everything from operating systems to applications and everything in between. That's a major upheaval," Smith said in a press conference Webinar.

However, Smith added that the mainstream computing world has increasingly moved into parallel computing. According to Smith, that means that software developed for desktops and laptops with parallel computing in mind can now be used in the HPC environment.

"In fact, Microsoft believes that we can apply parallel computing for the mainstream market to high-performance computing," Smith said.

Another major upheaval in computing is software as a service, he added. High bandwidth connections are enabling the interconnection of computers around the world, allowing delivery of services to client systems wherever you happen to be. Microsoft is investing in datacenters to enable this capability, Smith said.

"I believe, and Microsoft believes, that the onset of software as a service will also enable high-performance computing systems to be used to provide services in a couple of ways," Smith explained. "One is to allow high-performance computer services to be used by clients, but another is to let the high-performance computer systems themselves access Web services, for example, to acquire data from the Web."

The upshot is that mainstream applications will be able to run on HPC systems and it will be easier to develop software as a result of that, Smith concluded.

Cray's CX1 supercomputer can be ordered today and is priced from $25,000 to $80,000. A three-year warrantee and certified next-day support come standard with the machine. Further information on the product is available here.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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