Seattle’s Cray Inc. Lands $600M Pact to Develop ‘Frontier’ Supercomputer

Deal with U.S. Department of Energy national lab will result in more R&D hiring at tech powerhouse, CEO says
Updated: Tue, 05/07/2019 - 10:27
  • Deal with U.S. Department of Energy national lab will result in more R&D hiring at tech powerhouse, CEO says

Supercomputer-maker Cray Inc. has been awarded a U.S. Department of Energy contract to develop and deliver to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee the fastest computer Cray has ever built in a deal valued at more than $600 million.

Some $500 million of the new supercomputing pact with the Department of Energy (DOE) involves the system contract and another $100 million is focused on research and development efforts, Cray President and Chief Executive Officer Peter Ungaro says. Semiconductor company AMD also is partnering with Cray on the contract.

“And so, we [Cray] will definitely be hiring more people, especially in the R&D areas as we do the development for this build,” Ungaro adds.

The new supercomputer, dubbed the Frontier, is slated for delivery in 2021 and will be based on Cray’s new Shasta supercomputer architecture and will utilize AMD central and graphics processing units. The system will be used by researchers at the DOE national lab to propel advances in science, energy assurance, economic competitiveness and to help bolster national security.

The Frontier supercomputer is expected to achieve 1.5 exaflop performance capability, according to the Department of Energy (DOE). A performance capability of 1 exaflop is a trillion times faster than a typical consumer laptop.

“We really believe that there’s this new era of computing that we call the ‘exascale era,’ and it’s really driven by the growth in data that’s happening out there,” Ungaro says. “It’s not just science companies that are dealing with digital transformation and artificial intelligence. We really believe that these technologies that we're developing for these exascale [supercomputing] systems will be used and available to all enterprises, whether they're large or small firms.”

With a performance capability of 1.5 exaflops, the supercomputer being developed by Cray for the DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory will be the world’s most powerful computer to date, according to DOE.

“The 1.5 exaflops is the total performance,” Ungaro explains. “One way to think about it is that this system is like a really big-size refrigerator, those extra-wide refrigerators, and think about over a hundred of those spread across almost two basketball courts and weighing a million pounds, or let's say 35 school buses of weight.”

Ungaro adds, however, that the Cray Shasta infrastructure is very scalable and can offer potential customers in the private sector the same exascale processing speeds through a smaller setup, depending on the volume of data a company needs to analyze.

“As we think about the growth of Cray, it’s really about taking these technologies that we’re developing for the exascale era and delivering them not only to national laboratories, but to Fortune 500 and [other] companies all over the world,” Ungaro says. “We designed Shasta to be able to work with all these different environments and that allows for a lot of flexibility that can be tailored to different computing environments. So, you get the scalability and performance of a supercomputer, but the usability and modularity of the cloud, all integrated into this machine.”

Seattle-based Cray employs more than 1,200 people worldwide and recorded 2018 revenues of $456 million.

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