Cheyenne supercomputer sells at auction for just $480K

And you thought consumer electronics suffered from depreciation

The Cheyenne Supercomputer, a 5.34 peak PFLOPS behemoth that was once one of the fastest systems in the world, has just been sold at auction for $480,085. 

Cheyenne had 27 bidders over a seven-day auction that concluded Friday. Cheyenne's new owner will be carting away the SGI-built system with 145,152 CPU cores in 8,064 Intel Xeon E5-2967v4 processors, more than 313 TB of RAM, and a whole bunch of other bits and bobs split between 28 racks. The liquid cooling system is also included.

Cheyenne began operation at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research in 2016, and was ranked 21st in the Top 500 supercomputer list that year. By late last year, Cheyenne had slipped to 160th place - which is still respectable - but then the problems started. 

"The system is currently experiencing maintenance limitations due to faulty quick disconnects causing water spray," Uncle Sam's General Services Administration said on Cheyenne's auction page, presumably referring to Cheyenne's liquid cooling system that uses a PGW coolant fluid. "Given the expense and downtime associated with rectifying this issue in the last six months of operation, it's deemed more detrimental than the anticipated failure rate of compute nodes." 

You see, on top of that spray, the GSA said, there are DRAM DIMM ECC errors in roughly one percent of Cheyenne's nodes. Those nodes haven't been fixed, so whoever is bringing Cheyenne home has some significant work ahead of them if they plan to do anything other than sell it for parts. The RAM needs replacing and the cooling system needs some care, basically, from what we can tell.

That said, they also have a lot of work to do to get Cheyenne out of its current home at the NCAR-WY Supercomputing Center in the city of Cheyenne, Wyoming. NCAR doesn't plan to lift a finger once they've stowed all the cables and labeled the parts.

"Moving this system necessitates the engagement of a professional moving company," the GSA said. "Due to their considerable weight, the racks require experienced movers equipped with proper Professional Protection Equipment (PPE) to ensure safe handling. The purchaser assumes responsibility for transferring the racks from the facility onto trucks using their equipment." 

In other words, you bought it for a song, but you gotta figure out how to move it yourself. 

We can get some idea of the cost of Cheyenne by looking at its replacement - the recently-commissioned 19.87 PFLOPS Derecho supercomputer. Derecho, built using AMD and Nvidia components, cost around $35 million. 

If we learn who the lucky buyer is, or what they plan to do with Cheyenne, we'll update this story. ®

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