March 19, 2006 9:00 PM PST

Cray's future: Out of many, one

In a bid to simplify its product lines and get an edge on competitors, Cray plans a multi-year strategy to unify four different supercomputing technologies into a single, versatile machine.

The company plans to announce the concept Monday with its multi-year, three-phase "adaptive supercomputing" plan, said Jan Silverman, senior vice president of corporate strategy.

"No single processor architecture can best execute all programs," Silverman said. "You really need a combination of processor architectures to execute as efficiently as possible. And you have to hide that complexity from the users."

Cray faces competition from competitors such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems and Dell, whose systems work for mainstream computing tasks and therefore sell much more widely. And the company could use a financial boost.

On Friday, it reported preliminary results of a $65 million net loss on revenue of $201 million, and the revenue and net loss of 2004 could worsen by as much as $3.3 million because revenue from a product development contract may have been recorded improperly, the company said. The moves sent the company's stock down 11 percent to $1.82. But the company also said it expects 2006 revenue to grow about 5 to 15 percent above 2005 levels.

The first phase of Cray's product overhaul begins with separate systems tuned for different types of supercomputing jobs but sharing some hardware elements, Silverman said. Those products should emerge in 2007.

The second phase, roughly two years later, combines the systems into a single chassis, with separate blades for specific types of computing problems. In the third phase, control software will automatically route computing tasks to the best-suited hardware available in a system.

One of the four chip architectures is Cray's traditional stronghold, "vector" processors that can execute particular types of mathematical problems very quickly. A second type are the more ordinary Opteron chips from Advanced Micro Devices, typically placed in a large number of networked computers. The third are field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), chips that can be reconfigured on the fly to run specific programs very quickly. And the fourth are multithreaded chips from Tera Computer, a supercomputer company that acquired Cray in 2000 and assumed the better-known company's name.

See more CNET content tagged:
Cray Inc., supercomputing, phase, AMD Opteron

2 comments

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A blast from the past
There was a time when supercomputer and Cray were synonymous
and their "circular hotel lobby couch design" machines co-starred
in more than one movie.

Now clusters of x86 or "crates of Apples" seem to do most of the
heavy lifting. I wonder who, besides a couple of three letter
agencies, would be the market for today's Cray?
Posted by rcrusoe (1305 comments )
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Hmm
Ever wonder how big of a 'FAT PIPE' those three letter agencies have? I wonder if the traffic monitoring companies have a blacklist zone?

stray thought.
Posted by telestarnext (42 comments )
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