Supercomputers going cheep ( too cheep ? ) 1997

The end of the ’90s was tough few years for supercomputers. These articles describe the spat that broke out between Cray and NEC a Japanese firms that was accused of selling supercomputers at less than cost price. After the spat was settled Cray entered an agreement to resell NEC supers SX-5 & SX-6 into the American market. This disagreement did have an impact on the the site NCAR delaying the procurement cycle.


Cray fires shot on supercomputers

Amid a decline in the supercomputer industry, Cray accuses Japanese companies of offering prices well below development costs.

Michael Kanellos
Michael Kanellos

The president of Cray Research and other company executives testified today before the U.S. International Trade Commission, saying that Japanese manufacturers have doubled their market share for supercomputers over the past four years by offering vector supercomputers at prices well below development costs.

The testimony is the latest salvo in the legal and rhetorical war between the U.S.-based supercomputer manufacturer and Fujitsu and NEC. Cray claims that the two firms have been selling vector supercomputers at one-fifth to one-half of the cost that such computers take to develop, an allegation that was substantially affirmed in a Commerce Department investigation and a ruling by the Court of International Trade. NEC, meanwhile, has refuted the accusations.

“Left unchecked in the U.S. and worldwide, this illegal pricing will make it difficult for Cray to sustain the level of research and development required to stay competitive,” Cray president Irene Qualters said in a released statement.

Accusations aside, it is evident that Cray’s market share has been shrinking over the past few years, as has the supercomputer industry as a whole, according to Chris Willard, research director at International Data Corporation.

Cray had 80 percent of the market in 1991, a figure which shrank to 74 percent in 1993 and 52 percent in 1996, he said. NEC, meanwhile, has seen its market share grow from close to 4.5 percent in 1993 to 19 percent last year.

“It’s very cyclical. If you have the hot product one year, you sell the most,” he said.

But, in the past few years, selling the most computers has also meant selling below past glories. The market has shrunk from being a billion-dollar industry to accounting for only $561 million in sales last year. “We don’t see it returning to the ’93-’94 levels,” Willard said.

The $561 million in sales accounted for only 109 computers. In fact, there are actually only four manufacturers of supercomputers and the fourth, Hitachi, is currently exiting the market.

The decline mostly stems from the fact that computer makers have been able to bring increased capacity down the food chain. In 1978, a Cray supercomputer had a clock speed of 80 MHz and contained 8MB of memory, he said. Nearly all consumer computers now surpass those benchmarks.

To mitigate against obsolescence, research institutions and large manufacturers are increasingly opting to buy high-end RISC machines, such as the IBM RS/6000, rather than supercomputers. These computers can cost over $100,000, well below the average supercomputer price of over $5 million.

A ruling from the ITC is expected in September. If the court rules in favor of Cray, it can impose tariffs on future imports of supercomputers from NEC and Fujitsu into the U.S.


From NCAR Newsletter : A new C-90 arrives for climate modeling[4/18/2013 3:07:24 PM]

NCAR’s climate system model (CSM) and other integrated models have an spacious new home. Over Thanksgiving

week, a CRAY Y-MP8I supercomputer leased by NCAR since 1991 was replaced by a CRAY C-90. The new

machine–dubbed antero, like the one it replaced–has 256 million words of memory and 16 processors, twice as many

as its predecessor. It can produce up to 5 billion floating-point operations per second.

“We believe it’ll give us a factor of three to four increase in speed over the previous antero,” says Bill Buzbee, SCD

director. As the linchpin of the Climate System Laboratory (CSL), the new Cray will be dedicated to extensive climate


The C-90 has arrived at SCD through an 18-month extension of the previous lease arrangement for the Y-MP8I with

Cray Research, Inc. The old lease had been due to expire in mid-1997.

The arrival of the C-90 comes after a stalled process for longer-term acquisition of a new supercomputer for climate

modeling. In May, NCAR announced the selection of the Japan-based NEC Corp. to provide four large vector

supercomputers over five years. However, the acquisition has been put on hold pending a formal complaint by Cray.

Investigations are now under way by the International Trade Commission and the U.S. Commerce Department.

Decisions are not expected until well into 1997.

“We spent the better part of two years developing requirements for supercomputing support for the CSM,” says Jeff

Reaves, UCAR associate vice president for finance and administration. “The extension of our lease with Cray enables

us to provide the additional computing power we need for the Climate Modeling, Analysis, and Prediction program

and other modeling projects.”

The C-90 is in its testing-and-acceptance phase through December. Shortly after the two-day hardware installation and

checking process, software was delivered and installed. The next step was to ask “friendly” users (primarily NCARbased

modelers) to begin running familiar programs and verify that the algorithms worked as expected. “Typically on a

big mainframe, the acceptance tests take one or two weeks.” says Bo Connell, head of SCD’s Computer Production

Group (formerly the Operations Group). •BH

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