Computers

Cray ARMs its Supercomputers for War, HPC Workloads

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Four to five years ago, it was common to see CEOs and companies confidently predicting ARM would have a significant slice of the server market in the not-too-distant future. This, needless to say, has not come to pass. Qualcomm recently launched its upcoming Falkor CPUs, but those parts haven’t had time yet to demonstrate any kind of competitive standing. Even if they play well, Qualcomm won’t hit the 15 percent of the market AMD’s then-CEO, Rory Read, used to confidently predict Sunnyvale could hit with a combination of Cortex-A55 and a custom K12 CPU (now shelved, to the best of our knowledge). That’s clearly not going to happen, but Cray is pushing ARM into another high-end market — supercomputing.

The venerable supercomputer manufacturer announced it’s partnering with Cavium to build supercomputers featuring the ThunderX2 CPU. The ThunderX2 is fully ARMv8 compatible (that’s ARM’s 64-bit ISA), but it’s based on a custom version of the architecture, not a licensed core design like the Cortex-A72 or Cortex-A73. Cavium hasn’t said a great deal about its custom architecture, but we know the chip has up to 54 CPU cores at 3GHz, six DDR4 memory controllers, its own scalable fabric, and is built on a 14nm FinFET process (this could imply the chip is built at GF rather than TSMC). It’s a major win for Cavium, and a huge boost for ARM’s efforts to expand beyond mobile computing.

ThunderX2-Feature

“With the integration of Arm processors into our flagship Cray XC50 systems, we will offer our customers the world’s most flexible supercomputers,” said Fred Kohout, Cray’s senior vice president of products and chief marketing officer. “Adding ARM processors complements our system’s ability to support a variety of host processors, and gives customers a unique, leadership-class supercomputer for compute, simulation, big data analytics, and deep learning.”

Cray is working on an ARM-based supercomputer in the UK, codenamed Isembard. In addition to its own hardware design expertise, Cray has been working to optimize its own compiler stacks and customize its software for execution on the ThunderX2. Liquid-and-air cooled versions of the system will be available, and Cray customers will have the option to deploy ARM compute blades with Xeon products, Xeon Phi hardware, and Nvidia Tesla GPUs as well. Availability is expected in Q2 2018.

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