Author Topic: University of Toronto - Cray Supercomputer  (Read 3648 times)


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University of Toronto - Cray Supercomputer
« on: December 09, 2012, 12:51:04 am »
A Cray SuperComputer Comes to the University of Toronto
                         By Andrew Reeves-Hall

     The Cray X-MP/22 manufactured by Cray Research Incorporated
(CRI) of Minneapolis, Minnesota was delivered and installed at the
U of Toronto this September. The Cray is a well respected computer
- mainly for its extremely fast rate of mathematical floating-point
calculation.  As the university states in its July/August computer
magazine "ComputerNews", the Cray's "level of performance should
enable researchers with large computational requirements at the
university of Toronto and other Ontario universities to compete
effectively against the best in the world in their respective
     The Cray X-MP/22 has two Central Processing Units (CPUs) - the
first '2' in the '22'. The Cray operates at a clock rate of 105 MHz
(the regular, run-of-the-mill IBMPC has a clock rate of 4.77 MHz).
By quick calculations, you would be led to believe the Cray is only
about 20 times faster that the PC. Obviously, this is not the case.
The Cray handles data considerably differently than the PC. The
Cray's circuits permit an array of data (known as a 'vector') to
be processes as a SINGLE entity. So, where the IBMPC may require
several clock cycles to multiply two numbers, the Cray performs
everything in one clock cycle. This power is measured in Millions
of Floating Point Operations Per Second (MFLOPS) - which is to say
the rate at which floating-point operations can be performed. The
Cray MFLOPS vary as it does many activities, but a rate of up to
210 MFLOPS (per CPU) can be achieved.
     The second '2' in the X-MP/22 title refers to the two million
64-bit words (16Mb) of shared central memory. This can be expanded
to four million words in the future if the need arises. But it
doesn't stop there! The Cray can pipe information back and forth
between the CPU memory and the Input/Output Subsystem (IOS). The
IOS then takes it upon itself the store the information in any of
the four storage devices: i) one of the four 1200 Mb disk drives
(at a rate of 5.9Mb every second), ii) one of two standard 200ips
6250bpi tape drives, iii) a Solid State Storage Device (SSD) (which
is much like a 128Mb RAM Disk!), or iv) through to a front-end
computer (the U of T uses both the IBM4381 and a DEC VAX). These
computers would be programmed (usually in FORTRAN) and the
information passed onto the Cray. The results would then be
transfered back to the front end computers.
     The 4 year old Cray was bought used from the California NASA
research centre where it was used in aerodynamic calculations. This
means less cost to buy it and the assurance that it has been 'burned in'.
In case you wanted one for yourself, the U of T was able to purchase
the Cray for the low-low price of $12 million. Over the next five
years, the University predicts the total cost will probably be $25
million when maintenance, staff and other costs are taken into
consideration. To help out, the Ontario Government put in $10 million.
By doing this, all other Ontario University researchers are assured of
access at a reduced cost. By the way, to buy time on the system, it'll
cost you $2000 per hour.  But Ontario researchers only have to pay 7% of
that - $140 per hour. Their first commercial customer is OMNIBUS
Graphics of Toronto who plan to use the Cray in the graphic videos.
If you saw the movie 'The Last Starfighter', you will have already
experienced the graphic capabilites of the Cray (remember the some of
the space scenes!). The Cray did all of the calculations required for
those scenes and let another graphics computer to do the menial task
of drawing the lines and filling with the calculated colour.
     There is so much to talk about when the word 'Cray' pops to mind!
If you are seriously interested in this amazing computer and/or you are
interested in purchasing time on the system, please contact the
people below:
The Centre for Large Scale Computation at the U of T
Llyod Parker, Director
Facilities Manager
Dr. Edmund West
Supercomputer User's Group (for University Researchers, etc)