Friday, July 15, 2011

Cray – The Good, The Bad and in Between

Steve Scot, Cray CTO, presented a short update on the company achievements at ISC’11. Cray is one of the vendors playing at the top of the high-performance computing market. Unlike other vendors that offer solutions for the broad range of the HPC market – from high-end to the small clusters, Cray solution are mostly being used at the high end. It seems that the company attempt to offer commodity based clusters for the rest of the market segments did not really worked out…

In the past Cray had their own processors, interconnect etc, but in the last years they have decided to use the AMD CPUs and only left with their proprietary interconnect. Personally I am not a fan of proprietary solutions and in favor of the standard and open source. Open source does not mean free… in most cases I do pay for support, but standard and open source enable a broad range of solution across many usage models, and not just a limited set.

Cray has the most systems than any other vendor in the top 100 systems of the TOP500 supercomputers list Steve said. Cray has 23 systems in the top 100. Second is IBM with 22, third is HP with 11 and fourth is SGI with 9. On the other hand, the proprietary section of Cray – the interconnect, is a minority on the top 100. The biggest winner of the top100 is the standard based solution – x86 CPUs with InfiniBand (and Ethernet too, but for the top100 Ethernet is being used in a single system only) which is being used in 62 systems. One of the benefits of standard solution is the broad range of products and vendors that one can choose from. Therefore in the top100 standard has 62 systems (IBM, Dell, HP, SGI, Appro, Bull, Acer, T-Platform and others) while Cray has only 22. My vote goes with the standard…

In my opinion, Cray great advantage is with their software – compilers, tools etc, but not with their proprietary hardware.  InfiniBand for example is a better solution than Cray Gemini – latency, throughput, offloading etc. If Cray would make their software available for the standard based solutions that would be the best thing, but paying extra for hardware that is not better than the commodity option is a big waste.

Scot also showed a performance comparison between Gemini and InfiniBand. I saw a totally different performance set for InfiniBand in some other presentations made by the InfiniBand vendors, and it seems that Scot is not using the right number for their competitors... If you do decide to show numbers of competitor solutions, please make sure you have the right numbers… Integrity is the most important thing you want to maintain… especially in our small HPC community.  

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