With Cray, Intel seeks greater supercomputer share

SAN FRANCISCO, April 28 (Reuters) - Microprocessor giant Intel Corp INTC.O has struck a deal with supercomputer maker Cray Inc CRAY.O to bolster Intel's share of the market for the highest of high-end computers, executives said on Monday.

Cray and Intel unveiled a multiyear deal to build the next generation of high-performance computers capable of processing petaflops -- quadrillions of machine instructions a second -- or twice the power of the world’s top existing supercomputer.

While Intel supplies a wide range of supercomputer makers, working with Cray helps ensure Intel will be inside more of the world’s top 10 most-powerful computers, where boasting rights to having the fastest machines are in constant flux.

“Cray enjoys a pretty unique position in the top 10, and fills a gap in the range of Intel systems,” Richard Dracott, general manager of Intel’s High Performance Computing division, said in an interview.

More than 70 percent of the top 500 supercomputers are Intel-based, up from about half two years ago, he said, citing industry data. Its main rivals in that segment of the chip market are IBM IBM.N with its Power processors and perennial rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc AMD.N.

Cray, a supercomputer pioneer which supplies three of the world’s 10 most powerful machines, plans to switch to Intel processors in future installations. It had previously relied on AMD and custom-built chips.

Cray aims to deliver its first petaflop-scale machine later in 2008 at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The Intel tie-up will help Cray fulfill its product technology roadmap code-named “Cascade,” which the company plans to deliver by 2011 or 2012, according to Ian Miller, Cray’s head of sales and marketing.

Cray and Intel said their collaboration would lead to the development of systems that could help solve some of the most complicated scientific, engineering and humanitarian issues.

Intel, which has a commanding lead in the mass market for microprocessors in PCs, has expanded in recent years to focus on chips that can handle the most arduous computing tasks.

Partnering with Cray helps Intel fill gaps in its historic ambition to capture this elite segment of the market. Intel chips already power three of the top five supercomputers.

“The partnership is really about scale (and) moving much larger amounts of data,” Dracott said. “No one wants to take a machine that does jobs that take weeks or months to complete and have them fall over half way through the job.”

A year-and-a-half ago, Santa Clara, California-based Intel formed a new business division to target the high performance computer market, one of the fastest-growing segments in the computer server industry. The HPC market will grow to $18 billion by 2012 from $10 billion in 2006, executives from the companies said, citing data from market research firm IDC.

The Intel and Cray executives said they will explore future component designs such as multi-core processing and advanced interconnects -- technologies that should allow supercomputers to eventually handle multiple petaflops of data per second. (Editing by Braden Reddall)