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Cray to build supercomputer with new AMD chips

Cray to use AMD's new 16-core chip to build an 11.5 petaflop supercomputer for science

November 14, 2011 06:49 AM ET

Computerworld - Cray Inc. is building a supercomputer for federally funded scientific research under a contract valued at $188 million that was originally won by IBM.

This system, which will be capable of a peak performance of 11.5 petaflops when it is completed next year, will be built with 49,000 processors from Advanced Micro Devices, Cray said in its announcement Monday. A petaflop equals one quadrillion floating point operations per second.

The AMD chips that will be used in this system were released Monday as the new 6200 and 4200 series Opteron processors, formerly code-named Interlagos.

Cray and AMD weren't originally part of the supercomputing project called "Blue Waters." In August, IBM ended a four-year contract to build a petaflop-scale supercomputer at the University of Illinois' National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) over the project's scope and its cost. The termination was announced jointly after both sides said they "could not come to a mutually agreed-on plan."

This left the NCSA without a computer for its 88,000 square-foot data center as well as for its 25 scientific teams building applications to scale across tens of thousands of compute cores.

After the termination of the IBM contract, Bill Kramer, deputy director of the Blue Waters project, said "we went into full mobilization mode throughout the entire university" to find a replacement.

The National Science Foundation, the project's major funder, approved a new hardware plan last week, Kramer said.

Cray was hired, in part, because it could meet the original schedule to have a system running in 2012 and do it within the initial overall project budget of $208 million. Cray is deploying about 300 of its XE6 cabinets, which will run the AMD processors and a future version of its XK6 supercomputer with Nvidia's Tesla GPU chips.

"This is going to be the largest x86 system in the world," said Barry Bolding, vice president of storage and data management at Cray.

In October, Cray was awarded a $97 million contract from the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory to build a system, also using AMD chips and Nvidia GPUs, that may eventually deliver up to 20 petaflops.

The system will be installed in phases, with an initial deployment as early as January. It is expected to be completed by the middle of next year.

The high-performance computer (HPC) market has always been important to chip makers, but especially AMD. When it released Opteron in 2003, the first 64-bit x86 compatible server chip, some of its initial big sales were to HPC users.

This latest release increases the number of processor cores from 12 to 16.

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