Microsoft Brings Supercomputing to Azure with Cray Deal

A strategic partnership announced Monday between Microsoft and Cray will bring the latter's supercomputing capabilities to the Azure public cloud.

Cray has been regarded for decades as the leading provider of supercomputing systems, capable of processing even the most complex, high-performance and scientific workloads. In a deal that the two companies described as an "exclusive strategic alliance," Cray will work with Microsoft to bring its supercomputing capabilities to enterprises using Azure as the backbone.

Specifically, the two will offer customers dedicated Cray supercomputers running in Azure datacenters for workloads such as AI, analytics and complex modeling and simulation "at unprecedented scale, seamlessly connected to the Azure cloud," according to Cray's announcement.

The deal marks the first time Cray is bringing its supercomputers to a cloud service provider, according to a statement by Peter Ungaro, the company's president and CEO. Microsoft and Cray will offer the Cray XC and Cray CS supercomputers with its ClusterStor storage systems for dedicated customer provisioning in Azure datacenters and offered as Azure services.

"Dedicated Cray supercomputers in Azure not only give customers all of the breadth of features and services from the leader in enterprise cloud, but also the advantages of running a wide array of workloads on a true supercomputer, the ability to scale applications to unprecedented levels, and the performance and capabilities previously only found in the largest on-premise supercomputing centers," Ungaro said.

Cray's systems will integrate with Azure Virtual Machines, Azure Data Lake storage, Microsoft's AI platform and Azure Machine Learning services. For high-performance computing (HPC) management, customers can also use the Cray Urika-XC analytics software suite with Microsoft's CycleCloud orchestration service, which it acquired when it purchased Cycle Computing in August.

Microsoft's partnership with Cray is not surprising, given CEO Satya Nadella's focus on bringing supercomputer performance to the Azure cloud. In last year's Microsoft Ignite keynote, Nadella revealed some of the supercomputing functions Microsoft had quietly built into Azure, including an extensive investment in field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) throughout the Azure network backbone, bringing 25Gbps connectivity, up from 10Gbps, combined with GPU nodes.

Fast-forward to this year's Ignite gathering, where Nadella revealed Microsoft's extensive research and development efforts focused on quantum computing. The ability to offer this form of HPC requires breakthroughs in physics, mathematics and software programming that are still many years away. However, Nadella said Microsoft will release some free tools by year's end that will let individuals experiment with quantum computing concepts and programming models.

The pact with Cray will bring supercomputing processing capabilities to Azure that will solve the most complex challenges in climate modeling, precision medicine, energy, manufacturing and other scientific research, according to Jason Zander, Microsoft's corporate vice president for Azure.

"Microsoft and Cray are working together to bring customers the right combination of extreme performance, scalability, and elasticity," Zander stated in a blog post.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.