Inventions at Cray: Solving the Hard Problems

In the U.S., Feb. 11 is National Inventor’s Day, timed to coincide with the birthday of Thomas Edison. That’s reason enough to celebrate the inventors among us.

The phrase “computer vector register processing” may not sound very inspiring, but that’s what Seymour Cray’s patent for the supercomputer, issued in 1976, was called. Forty years later, his invention still inspires scientists and engineers to change the world.

Cray continues to nurture the spirit of invention both internally and among its customers and partners.

Larry Kaplan

For his part, Seymour Cray obtained numerous patents throughout his career, but it was U.S. Patent No. 4,128,880 (“Computer vector register processing”) that got him inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Today’s Cray engineers are still inventing in many fields to ensure its customers have access to the best new technology. Here are just two interesting examples.

Larry Kaplan, a senior principal engineer, and his team received three patents for a sophisticated system for the detection, management and abatement of congestion in high-speed networking.

“All networks are subject to congestion, and most hardware solutions are insufficient to handle it all,” says Kaplan. “This software provides an efficient means of finding and managing it.” His patents allow a system to continue effective operation in the face of either “misbehaving applications,” as he terms it, or applications experiencing congestion due to other network behaviors.

David Mizell

David Mizell, a senior manager of technical projects and the creator of the Cray Graph Engine (CGE), recently received two patents, one shared with senior engineer Chris Rickett, for features that improve the efficiency of the database’s in-memory representation in CGE. “In different ways they each make the database easier to search,” says Mizell. “We have lots of memory on a supercomputer, so we often trade space for time to get the highest performance we can.” The technology is proprietary to Cray’s Urika®-GX agile analytics platform.

Since April 2000, Cray and its subsidiaries have been issued 246 U.S. and foreign patents. “Cray, with help from our customers — especially the U.S. government — is always interested in pushing the bleeding edge of technology, which requires innovation on many fronts,” says Kaplan. “The Cray culture promotes solving these hard problems.”

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