Intel buys Cray’s interconnect arm but not for that reason

Laughably comical back-pedalling over AMD's SeaMicro buy

Intel - logoWhat do you do when your baby gets purchased out from under you? If you are Intel; transparent denials, then purchasing the next best thing, likely followed by more denials tomorrow.

If you didn’t hear already, Intel purchased the interconnect wing of Cray, basically the next best thing after AMD grabbed SeaMicro out from under them. The first thing to say about what Intel purchased is that it is in no way analogous to the SeaMicro interconnect, they are different animals aimed at different markets. SeaMicro is a shared nothing architecture, no more coherent between boxes than Ethernet is. Cray is a fully coherent interconnect that scales far higher than SeaMicro, and does more too. Data center vs supercomputer. (Authors note to the financial readers: Please note that one of these segments is profitable for CPU makers, the other is a loss-leading halo.)

SeaMicro is more about intelligently jacking up the density of a server and squeezing every fraction of a watt out of it. Cray is about making the largest shared memory multi-core machine on the planet, pushing the bounds of what is doable in computing. You can power the SeaMicro system on a 20A 220v circuit with headroom to spare, Cray’s installations for the US government tend to be located near hydro plants and electrical grid intersections of above average capacity, that’s not a statistical error. All this said, with a little tweaking, the two can do the same job.

If you haven’t been following the space, SeaMicro was Intel’s baby. They would bend over backwards to bin special low power SKUs for a numerically tiny customer, and Intel CxOs would almost open the doors to large customers for their new golden child. Then AMD bought SeaMicro. What followed was a rather comical series of denials about SeaMicro’s importance by Intel’s Diane Bryant, utterances that would have been laughably transparent if they weren’t so sad. Six year olds on the playground utter more mature idioms when you take their toys away, and AMD unquestionably took Intel’s toy away.

Intel, still pouting from being so publicly out-manoeuvred, went out and bought a chunk of Cray that could be re-purposed to do the same job a few years after AMD has products on the market. Best of all, the Cray technology is different enough to be spun as ‘not a knee-jerk reaction’ to the gullible and technically illiterate press. Wait for it tomorrow, I could write the speech now, but it will be funnier if Intel says it first.

If this purchase doesn’t convince the doubters over the wisdom of both Intel’s, I mean SeaMicro’s, former direction and AMD’s purchase thereof, I don’t know what will. AMD did right and bought the only game in town. Intel got a distant number two and is trying really hard to hold back the tears while looking longingly one exit down the 101 and sobbing.S|A

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Charlie Demerjian

Roving engine of chaos and snide remarks at SemiAccurate
Charlie Demerjian is the founder of Stone Arch Networking Services and is a technology news site; addressing hardware design, software selection, customization, securing and maintenance, with over one million views per month. He is a technologist and analyst specializing in semiconductors, system and network architecture. As head writer of, he regularly advises writers, analysts, and industry executives on technical matters and long lead industry trends. Charlie is also a council member with Gerson Lehman Group.