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A Cray XC supercomputer in Lugano, Switzerland. (Cray Photo)

Cray plans to announce Tuesday that the Department of Energy’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center has signed a $146 million contract for its brand-new Shasta supercomputer architecture, with plans to deploy a system by 2020.

Shasta is based on a new, more-flexible architectural design that allows customers to swap in processors or system interconnects as they want, allowing them to stay in step with new processors or special processors if their demands change, said Stathis Papaefstathiou, senior vice president of research and development for the longtime supercomputing company based in Seattle. That could let them maintain a Shasta system “for the next decade” or so, he said.

“We’ve really future-proofed this infrastructure so it can support this capability for a number of years,” Papaefstathiou said. Customers will be able to run standard x86 server processors from Intel or AMD, ARM server processors from emerging vendors like Ampere, or GPUs from Nvidia used in artificial intelligence research and development in their Shasta systems.

The new design will also allow customers to purchase Shasta supercomputers in a new standard 19-inch rack size that could fit alongside existing equipment at customer data centers or a compact package that requires liquid cooling for up to 64 blade servers. Either design, which Cray calls a cabinet, can scale up to 100 cabinets.

NERSC plans to use the Shasta system to process and analyze large amounts of data from telescopes or environmental sensors, it said in a statement. NERSC and Cray have partnered on supercomputer development for several years, and a Cray XC40 operated by NERSC currently ranks as the 10th most-powerful supercomputer in the world.

A single Shasta system will cost somewhere between $500,000 to almost $1 million, depending on the custom configuration of hardware and software required by the customer, said Fred Kohout, Cray’s senior vice president of products and chief marketing officer. “We don’t offer SKUs,” he joked, referring to inventory management jargon for the standard configurations that a lot of computer makers sell.

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