Supercomputer processing power is not measured in gigabytes or even terabytes but in teraflops and petaflops. Flops is the acronym for FLoating point Operations Per Second, and a petaflop refers to the ability of a computer to perform a quadrillion floating point operations per second.
The Cray® XC® series supercomputer is a groundbreaking architecture upgradable to 100 petaflops per system. The Top500 list of the fastest supercomputers shows Titan, a Cray system, at number two in the world and Piz Daint as the fastest supercomputer in Europe.
“All of the advances that have been achieved in high-speed computing can be traced back directly to the work of Seymour Cray,” says VP EMEA Business Operations Dominik Ulmer. “He developed the first completely transistorized commercial computer by eliminating the need for vacuum tubes and followed it in 1963 with the CDC 6600, which, with an operating speed of nine megaflops, is considered to have been the world’s first actual supercomputer.”
Since then, Cray has continued to develop faster and faster supercomputers to tackle the most complex and demanding computing tasks.
“We are always rushing to catch up with the needs of our customers as research tries to come up with answers to the big questions in science,” explains Mr. Ulmer. The CERN project is just one example of how advances in computer processing speed are allowing scientists to gain insights into the origins of the planet.
However, supercomputers are also used for things with more direct relevance to consumers and everyday life. One of the biggest contracts that Cray has won recently is an order from the UK Meteorological Office.
It is the largest project that Cray has ever worked on outside the USA and is worth 128 million USD. The computers supplied to the UK Met Office will help make forecasting the weather even more accurate and will also support long-running global climate simulations designed to predict the long-term effects of climate change.
Cray has also supplied similar systems to other earth system research centers such as the German Weather Service, the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, the Korean Meteorological Administration, MeteoSwiss, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Another project that will keep the European office busy in 2015 is a contract worth 80 million USD from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Jeddah.
“We have a network of subsidiaries in Europe with offices in the UK, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, France and Italy, which operate together on major projects,” says Mr. Ulmer. “The German office is the second largest of these after our UK office in Bristol. However, we see Germany as our biggest sales market.”
Cray operates in the three key areas of supercomputing, data storage and data analytics. “We are heavily involved in digital transformation and see ourselves as technology pioneers,” says Mr. Ulmer. “We work closely together with our customers to understand what they are trying to do and the problems they are trying to solve. We then develop the technology that will allow them to find the answers to those questions.”
Most of these questions are being asked by governments and researchers, but more and more companies are turning to supercomputers to give them a competitive advantage. Here, the Internet of Things offers Cray indirect opportunities to provide help in analyzing the massive amounts of data produced in simulations, for example in the construction of wind turbines.
“We develop technological solutions that are constantly pushing back the boundaries of the possible – the pace of change has never been faster, but we still have a long way to go to answer the truly big questions,” concludes Mr. Ulmer.