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New HPE array brings Cray storage to the data center

The HPE Cray C500 delivers enough storage and performance for enterprise high-performance computing and AI workloads on-premises, and without the supercomputer price tag.

HPE Cray is launching an entry-level, on-premises version of its supercomputer storage system that can be used for enterprise modeling, AI and machine learning use cases and comes at a lower price tag than other Cray offerings.

HPE Cray Storage Systems C500 is an exascale-class storage array with the same software as the Cray ClusterStor E1000, HPE's purpose-engineered storage for supercomputer and HPC use cases, in a more cost-effective build. Like the E1000, the C500 includes the embedded open source Lustre parallel file system for high-performance access to large files or large quantities of data, and has unified support from HPE's managed services team. HPE already offers its Cray line of supercomputers as a service through GreenLake for users who need to develop large language models (LLMs) but don't have access to supercomputers. Now, the C500, which begins shipping May 27, gives enterprises an additional option.

While LLMs are trained in the public cloud, smaller language models need to be developed for on-premises use, and HPE is looking to support those customers, according to Peter Rutten, an analyst at IDC.

"That requires data that may be proprietary, sensitive or compliance-restricted, and enterprises prefer to keep that data in their own data centers," Rutten said.

Similar package, lower cost

The C500 uses the same software, 2U24 storge controller and 5U84 HDD storage enclosure as the E1000 with some key differences. The E1000 controller is composed of a System Management Unit, which includes a pair of storage management nodes; and a Metadata Unit, which handles Lustre metadata. The C500 instead uses a single HPE ProLiant DL325 Gen11 server that combines both functions at a lower cost.

The E1000 supports only fully populated storage enclosures, whereas the C500 also supports half-populated storage enclosures, giving customers an option of buying either half or fully populated, depending on their storage needs.

Thursday, HPE released version 6.7 of the storage system's underlying Cray ClusterStor Neo software, adding support for the C500 units, which includes ProLiant DL325 servers and the combined metadata and storage controller. The C500 will also benefit from the software's previous release, which included an auto-tiering capability, monitoring integration and a network file system gateway integration that enables NFS export of Lustre file systems.

Not all that is offered by Cray would be applicable to the HPC and MOD/SIM workloads that are starting to integrate AI; they all don't need the full horsepower [of Cray].
Mark NossokoffAnalyst, Hyperion Research

Cray has a long heritage in supercomputing going back to the 1970s, and was acquired by HPE in 2019 for $1.3 billion. HPE Cray is extending that heritage in exascale and supercomputer tools, libraries and management software and hardware for high-performance computing (HPC) and now AI workloads, according to Mark Nossokoff, an analyst at Hyperion Research. HPE is finding ways to make some of the technology enterprise friendly.

"Not all that is offered by Cray would be applicable to the HPC and [modeling and simulation] workloads that are starting to integrate AI; they all don't need the full horsepower [of Cray]," he said.

HPE needed a way to get into enterprise AI, Nossokoff said. Cray Supercomputers storage comes at a high price, but the base unit of the C500 starts at $60,000 compared with $250,000 for the E1000.

Markets change, HPE adapts

The market for on-premises AI storage is strong, particularly for AI training on smaller models or customers who are fine-tuning, customizing and inferencing their AI workloads, Rutten said.

"It's not nearly as large as compute but has healthy growth in the higher-performance categories," he said.

The HPE Cray Storage Systems C500 will be available via HPE GreenLake Management Services, which provides remote infrastructure management and monitoring. Another option is via GreenLake Flex Solutions, which offers as-a-service models to on-premises environments, according to the vendor.

The Capex expenses of an HPC are muted some with HPE GreenLake options, Rutten said. However, the C500 also includes technology that requires specific expertise.

"There definitely is a bit of a learning curve if you don't have parallel file system skill sets in-house," Rutten said.

Nossokoff agreed that using Lustre is a learning curve. But he added that HPE also strives to reduce complexity of tech through offerings like GreenLake. The features and functionality are all built into the hardware.

"It can be just picked up and used with the hardware as is," Nossokoff said.

Adam Armstrong is a TechTarget Editorial news writer covering file and block storage hardware, and private clouds. He previously worked at

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