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Originally published Wednesday, September 17, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Microsoft, Cray and Intel team up for cheaper supercomputer

Responding to the increasingly data-intensive tasks that scientists, engineers and business analysts regularly face, Seattle supercomputer maker Cray launched a lower-cost system Tuesday aimed at a more mainstream market.

Seattle Times technology reporter

Responding to the increasingly data-intensive tasks that scientists, engineers and business analysts regularly face, Seattle supercomputer maker Cray launched a lower-cost system Tuesday aimed at a more mainstream market.

The company is partnering with Microsoft and Intel on the Cray CX1 high-performance computer, which will sell for $25,000 to $80,000 and can be ordered online — a first for the company, which traces its roots to 1972.

The system will run Microsoft Windows HPC Server 2008 and is built on Intel Xeon processors. It will also run Red Hat Linux, a popular high-performance computing operating system.

Kyril Faenov, Microsoft general manager of high-performance computing, called the CX1 perfect "to democratize high-performance computing and accelerate innovation for a broader set of users."

The CX1 can sit under or beside a desk or lab bench. It offers noise-canceling features to make the system more office-friendly, and it does not require special power, cooling or a dedicated computer room.

The CX1 will ship in no more than six boxes and have color-coded cables and preinstalled software.

Cray aims to reduce the need for IT staff to operate and maintain it, said Barry Bolding, the company's director of product marketing.

That's part of the reason it chose the more familiar Windows operating system.

High-performance computing is a key focus area for Microsoft. In an internal e-mail laying out priorities for the 2008 fiscal year, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer wrote, "We must continue to compete against Linux in key workloads such as Web servers and high-performance computing."

Faenov said many industries have come to rely on computing power to drive and accelerate the "cycle of innovation."

Scientific experiments, simulations and observations in myriad fields are generating petabytes of data that can overwhelm less powerful systems' ability to process it.

"Information needs to be processed, needs to be mined for new insights," Faenov said.

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Industry analyst IDC reports the high-performance computing market grew 19 percent a year in the last four years, reaching nearly $12 billion in 2007.

Industries using the technology include the biosciences, computer-aided engineering and defense.

Cray will challenge several competitors, including Hewlett-Packard, Dell and IBM, for the emerging mainstream high-performance computing market, said IDC analyst Earl Joseph, who spoke during a Cray Web conference announcing the product.

The CX1 will support up to 64 processor cores of up to 3.4 gigahertz each. It will have a peak performance of 786 gigaflops.

One gigaflop is a billion floating-point operations per second. In 1991, Cray had a supercomputer that could hit 10 gigaflops at a cost of $40 million.

Today, the world's fastest supercomputer, the Roadrunner, a joint effort of IBM and Los Alamos National Laboratory, topped out at 1,000 trillion calculations per second in June. It costs about $100 million.

Benjamin J. Romano: 206-464-2149 or bromano@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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