Supercomputer manufacturer Cray will be offering the option of using GPUs in its next generation of high performance computing systems, the company announced.

The new Cray XK6 system will feature a combined x86/GPU programming environment, one that should help with the process of writing programs that can run on Nvidia GPUs.

The motivation for providing GPUs with systems came from customer demand, noted Barry Bolding, Cray vice president of products. He admitted that Cray hasn't been the first high performance computing company to incorporate GPUs into its systems, IBM has long used the technology for its own systems, though it is currently embracing the technology as the most cost effective way to one day provide exascale computing capabilities. The current XK6 model will set the stage for exascale computing, Bolding said.

The GPUs are not meant for rendering graphics on screen, but rather can be used to efficiently do large scale, vector-style processing, which involves executing the same task many times simultaneously across large sets of data. GPUs can be far more energy effective at such tasks compared to x86 processors, Bolding said.

The new machines will use NVIDIA Tesla 20-Series GPUs, along with AMD Opteron 6200 Series processors (codenamed "Interlagos") and Cray's Gemini interconnect. Cray can assemble XK6 machines to offer as much as 50 petaflops (quadrillions of operations/second) of compute power.

The company also announced the first customer for the XK6. The Swiss National Supercomputing Centre will upgrade its Cray XE6m system, named "Piz Palu," to a Cray XK6 configuration. The centre uses the supercomputer to undertake such tasks as climate forecasting and scientific research across a wide number of fields.

Users of Cray XT4, Cray XT5, Cray XT6 or Cray XE6 systems can upgrade their systems to the XK6 configuration, namely by replacing the existing compute blades with XK6 modules. The most recent compilation of the world's 500 most powerful supercomputers, issued in November, included 29 Cray systems.