Cray's rich history extends back to 1972

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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.

Historical Timeline

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.