Intel makes a grab for Cray interconnect tech

April 25, 2012 // 11:55 a.m.

Tags: #amd #aries #cray #exascale #gemini #high-performance-computin #high-performance-computing #hpc #infiniband #intel #interconnect #qlogic #supercomputer

Intel has announced another acquisition to bolster its exascale computing push, buying assets and staff from supercomputing giant Cray.

The deal, the value of which has not been made public, sees Intel taking on Cray's existing Gemini interconnect and its successor Aries. It's the second such deal this year for Intel, following the acquisition of QLogic's Infiniband interconnect arm for $125 million back in January.

Gemini, launched by Cray back in 2010, is a high-performance interconnection system for supercomputing applications designed to link system processors together in massively parallel computing systems - Cray's bread and butter. Based on HyperTransport technology, the system is designed for the creation of high-performance computing systems built around AMD's Opteron family of processors.

If you're wondering why Intel is buying a technology designed for AMD, the secret is in Aries: designed as a next-generation replacement for Gemini, Aries replaces the HyperTransport links with PCI Express lanes - making it processor-agnostic and perfectly happy working with chips from Intel, AMD, Cray itself and even low-power specialists like ARM and VIA.

The fact that Aries will support Intel chips is no secret: Cray has been working on Cascade, its next-generation supercomputing product, for several years with the very public intention to use Xeon processors. By purchasing Gemini, Aries and related technologies, Intel clearly hopes to steal a march on rival AMD and improve its own interconnection know-how for the small but lucrative HPC market.

'Delivering continued advancement in high-performance computing, including breaking the exascale barrier, requires tremendous innovation in interconnect technology,' claimed Diane Bryant, vice president and general manager of Intel's Datacentre and Connected System Group, of the deal. 'The acquisition of Cray's industry-leading interconnect technology and expertise provides exceptional strategic assets that further enhance Intel's HPC portfolio. We're excited about the value this will allow us to bring to our customers.'

While Intel largely dominates the HPC market, it has some way to go before it can claim market-leading performance: the current leader of the TOP500 supercomputer chart is the K-Computer, a Fujitsu-made system based on SPARC-architecture processors.

Once Intel finishes buying in the expertise it needs and launches the first large-scale Many Integrated Cores (MIC) products, successors to the Knights Corner and Knights Ferry 50-core processor acceleration boards it is already trialling, that could all change.

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