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$250M To Realize "Adaptive Supercomputing" Vision

The DARPA program is designed to improve programmer productivity 10 times over what it was when the program started in 2002

Cray, AMD and Linux just got a collective $250M boost in the arm from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). 

In one of the most watched procurements ever, Cray and IBM are splitting a huge $494M grant from DARPA, unprecedented in its size even if it is over four years, to develop the last leg of their rival next-generation supercomputers, and Cray is going to be building its uncommon machines out of AMD chips and the Linux operating system, expecting the giants to be used commercially as well as in the airy precincts of government research labs.

IBM is using its next-generation Power7 chip, AIX operating system, General Parallel File System, Parallel Environment and interconnect and storage subsystems. Sun, which participated in the first two rounds of DARPA-paid development, was dropped in the final cut.

The DARPA program is designed to improve programmer productivity 10 times over what it was when the program started in 2002.

Cray is getting $250M from DARPA to realize its so-called Adaptive Supercomputing vision and produce a blade server, under a program code named Cascade, that will scale to north of a sustained 10 petaflops by marshaling hundreds of thousands of processors in a hybrid architecture that combines both scalar and vector technologies.

On the theory that you can't build a system that can be optimized for every application, the idea is to create one that adapts to the application rather than adapt the application to the processor. Its compiler is supposed to figure out which processor is best for the application and send it there.

As you might imagine, this IS rocket science.

AMD will provide the scalar side with its Opteron chips and Cray the vector side with custom vector boards.

Cray expects the Opteron blade first. It's code named Baker, a follow-on to the company's new XT4, and is supposed to be ready for commercialization by 2009.

Given that timetable, Cray wouldn't hazard how many cores an Opteron might have by then. It also planned to use special FPGAs as accelerators but now that AMD has bought ATI and is proposing to offer ATI's graphics processors for such things, Cray president and CEO Peter Ungaro allowed that Cray might go that route.

Cray is supposed to have a prototype of its second board, code named Granite, in 2010 and commercialize it in 2011. It will be the massively multithreaded vector board outfitted with Opteron and custom co-processors.

The system requires a new language, code named Chapel, and a lightweight OS kernel. Cray CTO Steve Scott said commercial operating systems create OS jitter but Ungaro said Cray was using the latest Linux strain because of portability requirements.

The hybrid system is supposed to run existing programs.

Cray is working on an adaptive software layer and new high-performance network.

Cray claims the DARPA grant is "shaping the future of HPC and the entire computer industry." It is certainly vindication for Cray. Heck, the award is bigger than its annual revenues, which in Q3 were only $32.5 million on which it lost $8.3 million. With the government's money in its pocket it's hoping for a profitable '07.


Copyright (c) 2006 Client Server News

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