HISTORY OF CRAY SUPERCOMPUTERS

CRAY'S RICH HISTORY EXTENDS BACK TO 1972

CRAY HISTORY

Cray Inc. builds on a rich history that extends back to 1972 when Seymour Cray, the legendary "father of supercomputing," founded Cray Research. R&D and manufacturing were based in his hometown of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin; business headquarters were in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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The 1970s: Revolutionary Ideas

The first Cray®-1 system was installed at Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1976 and cost $8.8 million. It boasted a world-record speed of 160 million floating-point operations per second (160 megaflops) and an 8 MB (1 million word) main memory. The architecture of the Cray-1 system reflected its designer's penchant for bridging technical hurdles with revolutionary ideas. In order to increase the speed of this system, it was built with a unique "C" shape so the integrated circuits could be placed closer together. No wire in the system was more than four feet long. To handle the intense heat the computer generated, Cray developed an innovative refrigeration system using Freon.

Cray made its first international shipment in 1977, to the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, and within two years had opened subsidiary offices in the U.K., Germany and Japan.

 

The 1980s: Gigaflops and Gallium Arsenide

To concentrate his efforts on design, Seymour Cray left the CEO position in 1980 and became an independent contractor. As he worked on the follow-on to the Cray-1, another group within the company developed the first multiprocessor supercomputer, the Cray X-MP™, which was introduced in 1982. The Cray®-2 system appeared in 1985, providing a tenfold increase in performance over the Cray-1.

In 1988, Cray Research introduced the Cray Y-MP®, the world's first supercomputer to sustain over 1 gigaflops on many applications. Multiple 333 megaflops processors powered the system to a record sustained speed of 2.3 gigaflops.

Always a visionary, Seymour Cray had been exploring the use of gallium arsenide in creating a semiconductor faster than silicon. However, the costs and complexities of this material made it difficult for the company to support development of both the Cray®-3 and the Cray C90™ supercomputers. In 1989, Cray Research spun off the Cray-3 project into a separate company, Cray Computer Corporation, headed by Seymour Cray and based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Cray Research continued its international expansion, opening subsidiaries in Australia, Canada, France, India, Italy, South Korea, Spain and Switzerland.

 

The 1990s: MPP and Teraflops

The 1990s brought a number of transforming events to Cray Research. The company continued its leadership in providing the most powerful supercomputers for production applications. The Cray C90 system, introduced in 1991, featured a new central processor with industry-leading sustained performance of 1 gigaflops. Using 16 of these powerful processors and 256 million words of central memory, the system boasted unrivaled total performance. The company also produced its first "mini-supercomputer," the Cray XMS™ system, followed by the Cray Y-MP EL™ series and the subsequent Cray J90™ system.

In 1993, Cray Research offered its first massively parallel processing (MPP) system, the Cray T3D™ supercomputer, and quickly captured MPP market leadership from early MPP companies. Compared with competing MPP systems, the Cray T3D system was exceptionally robust, reliable, sharable and easy to administer.

Debuting in 1995, the successor Cray T3E™ supercomputer was the world's best-selling MPP system. And the Cray T3E-1200E system, introduced just four years after Cray broke the sustained gigaflops barrier, was the first supercomputer to sustain 1 trillion floating-point operations per second, or teraflops, on a real-world application.

In another technological landmark, the Cray T90™ became the world's first wireless supercomputer when it was unveiled in 1994. Also introduced that year, the Cray J90 series became the world's most popular supercomputer, with over 400 systems sold.

In Colorado Springs, Seymour Cray’s final endeavor, Cray Computer Corporation, closed its doors in 1995 after filing for bankruptcy. Seymour Cray died at the age of 71 from injuries suffered in an auto accident in September 1996.

 

1990s – 2000s: Change and Growth

Beyond major advances in supercomputing speed, the 1990s also brought business-related changes to Cray. In February 1996 Cray Research merged with Silicon Graphics, Inc. In August 1999, SGI created a separate Cray Research business unit to focus exclusively on the unique requirements of high-end supercomputing customers. Assets of this business unit were sold to Tera Computer Company, based in Seattle, Washington, in March 2000. Two years earlier, Tera had introduced the first multithreaded architecture (MTA) systems.

After Tera acquired the Cray Research division of SGI in 2000, the company was renamed Cray Inc. (Nasdaq: CRAY).

Cray continued its technological leadership with expansion into the education market. In 2008 the University of Tennessee took delivery of a Cray® XT5-HE™ supercomputer, the first petaflops system in academia. In 2009 a Cray® XT5™ system at Oak Ridge National Laboratory was named the world’s fastest supercomputer by TOP500.org.

 

The 2010s: Harnessing Big Data

Well into its fifth decade, Cray continues to build on its strength in high performance computing by addressing the ever-growing demands of big data analysis and storage across a spectrum of users, from scientists and government labs to financial analysts and sports teams.  We fuse supercomputing, storage and data analysis technologies, enabling customers to make new discoveries, develop better products and make positive impacts on the planet.

SEYMOUR CRAY (1925-1996)

“I was one of those nerds before the name was popular,” he told a Smithsonian Institution interviewer.

A Man Whose Vision Changed the World

Recognized as “the father of supercomputing” and credited with single-handedly creating and leading the high performance computing industry for decades, Seymour R. Cray was a dedicated and focused computer engineer, regarded by some as a true maverick and “serial” pioneer. Jokingly, he would refer to himself as “an overpaid plumber.”

 

The beginnings

Born Sept. 28, 1925, in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, Seymour had a fascination with electronics and electrical devices from boyhood. In high school the young Cray preferred to be in the electrical engineering laboratory as much as possible. “I was one of those nerds before the name was popular,” he told a Smithsonian Institution interviewer. “I spent all my time in the electrical engineering laboratory and not enough time socializing.”

Following graduation from high school in 1943, he joined the U.S. Army, serving in an infantry communications platoon. He arrived in Europe the day after D-Day and saw action in the Battle of the Bulge campaign. Later he served in the Pacific theater in the Philippine Islands.

After returning from the war, Seymour earned a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from the University of Minnesota, followed by a master’s degree in applied mathematics. Shortly thereafter, he joined a new company called Engineering Research Associates (ERA). Housed in an old glider factory in St. Paul, Minnesota, ERA built specialized cryptographic equipment for the U.S. Navy. Seymour worked the gamut of computer technologies, ranging from vacuum tubes and magnetic amplifiers to transistors. It was also here that he had the opportunity to design his first computer, the 1103.

 

The world’s first and fastest supercomputers

Seymour’s passion for building scientific computers led him to help start Control Data Corporation (CDC) in 1957. There he realized his goal of building the fastest scientific computer ever, the CDC 1604. It was the first fully transistorized commercial computer — he had eliminated vacuum tubes. Release of the CDC 6600, which was considered the world’s first actual supercomputer, followed in 1963. The CDC 6600 was capable of 9 megaflops (million floating-point operations per second) of processing power and was cooled by Freon. The CDC 7600 was next. Running at 40 megaflops, it in turn became the world’s fastest supercomputer.

In 1968 Seymour began work on the CDC 8600, designed for greater parallelism. It employed four processors, all sharing one memory. In 1968, he was awarded the W.W. McDowell Award by the American Foundation of Information Processing Societies for his work in the computer field.

Seymour served as a director of CDC from 1957 to 1965 and was senior vice president at the time of his departure in 1972, when CDC decided to phase out development of large-scale scientific computers. That year he founded Cray Research Inc. in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.

In 1972 the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) presented Seymour with the Harry H. Goode Memorial Award for his contributions to large-scale computer design and the development of multiprocessing systems. The IEEE created the annual Seymour Cray Computer Engineering Award in honor of Seymour’s “creative spirit” in 1997.

 

Vector processing is born

The signature Cray®-1 vector supercomputer established a world standard in supercomputing when it was unveiled in 1976. Integrated circuits replaced transistors, and the Cray-1 delivered 170 megaflops of processing speed.

In the years following CDC's founding, Seymour relinquished the company's management reins to devote more time to computer development. From 1972 to 1977 he served as director, chief executive officer and president of the company. In October 1977, he left the presidency of Cray Research, but remained chief executive officer and became chairman of the board. In 1980, he resigned as chief executive officer, and in 1981, Cray stepped aside as chairman of the board. As a full-time independent contractor, he devoted himself to the Cray-2 project.

In 1985 the Cray®-2 computer system moved supercomputing forward yet again, breaking the gigaflops (1,000 megaflops) barrier. With the Cray®-3, Seymour turned his attention to the possibilities of gallium arsenide processing chips and reduced packaging. But after experimenting with gallium arsenide as an ultrafast semiconductor material, Seymour returned to the use of silicon chips and introduced Flourinert, an inert fluorocarbon liquid, as a coolant.

In 1989 Seymour left Cray Research to form Cray Computer Corporation (CCC), based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Here he began work on the Cray®-4. CCC closed its doors in 1995 due to financial pressures.

In 1996 Seymour started SRC Computers, Inc., and started the design of his own massively parallel supercomputer, concentrating on the communications and memory performance. Tragically, on Oct. 5, 1996, at the age of 71, Seymour Cray passed away in Colorado Springs from injuries suffered in a car accident two weeks earlier.

 

Guided by simplicity

Throughout his 45-year career, simplicity was Cray’s guiding principle in designing computers. Seymour Cray is the inventor of a number of technologies that were patented by the companies he worked for. Among the most significant are the Cray-1 vector register technology, the cooling technologies for the Cray-2 computer, the CDC 6600 Freon-cooling system, and a magnetic amplifier for ERA. He also contributed to the Cray-1 cooling technology design.

Today, Seymour Cray’s legacy lives on with the same enduring passion and mindset of continuous innovation at HPE and helping organizations of all types solve their most complex computing and analytics challenges with the HPE Cray line of supercomputers.