Mini office supercomputer
Cray, the supercomputer manufacturer, has released its smallest machine yet, the CX1. The casing has an intelligent, noise cancelling cooling system, and is meant to be suitable for deployment in ordinary offices. The CX1 takes a maximum of eight blades, each holding one or two Intel Xeon processors. Each processor can in turn contain two or four cores. Up to 64 GB RAM and one laptop hard drive can be installed on each blade. Separate storage blades allow the installation of four or eight 2.5-inch hard drives. A visualisation blade containing an Nvidia Quadro FX 4600 graphics card is also available.
Cray's quoted price for a basic configuration is $25,000, but you can spend up to $60,000. For the dual socket CN5400 blade, Cray uses the Intel 5400 – Seaburg – FSB 1600 chipset, which links the two main processors to four DDR2 800 memory channels for fully buffered DIMMs. Cray's web shop only sells 4 GB DIMMs at present, making a maximum of 32 GB per blade. Presumably 8 GB DIMMs will be available soon.
In the simplest case, the blades are networked via the on-board network chips and a Gigabit Ethernet switch built into the casing. Infiniband can also be used. An external 12-port DDR IB switch costs around $3,500. Cray supplies either Windows HPC Server 2008 or Red Hat Linux Platform Open Cluster Stack (OCS) as the operating system.
The power supplies in the CX1 reputedly achieve an efficiency of up to 92 per cent. According to Cray, it uses a noise cancellation system to reduce fan noise. Silentium, also supplies an active noise control system for Intel's compact blade chassis.
The idea of an office supercomputer is nothing new. NEC has been selling compact systems with SX vector processors for several years. Server supplier Tyan also builds personal supercomputers (PSC) similar in design to the Cray CX1. Orion Multisystems was looking to release a mini cluster with 12 to 96 Transmeta processors some years ago. SiCortex offers a system with 5832 MIPS processors, although it doesn't quite fit under a desk.
The market leader in (compact) HPC clusters is currently HP. Dell, HP, IBM and Intel all offer compact cases able to take multiple blade servers. According to IDC, the supercomputer segment is currently undergoing very rapid growth.