Cray Inc.

From Academic Kids

Template:Redirect Cray Inc. is a supercomputer manufacturer based in Seattle, Washington. Cray Research was founded in 1972 by computer designer Seymour Cray. Already a legend in his field by this time, Cray put his company on the map in 1976 with the release of the Cray-1 vector computer. Cray left to form his own company, Cray Computer Corporation, which went bankrupt in 1995, while Cray Research was bought by SGI the next year. Today's company was formed in 2000 by a merger of Tera Computer Company with Cray, which Tera purchased from SGI.

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Cray-2 logo

The Cray Research years

Seymour Cray began working in the computing field in 1950 when he joined Engineering Research Associates (ERA) in Saint Paul, Minnesota. There, he helped to create the ERA 1103, regarded as the first successful scientific computer. ERA eventually became part of UNIVAC, and started to be phased out. He left the company in 1960, a few years after some former ERA employees set up Control Data Corporation (CDC). He eventually set up a lab at his home in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, about 85 miles to the east. Cray left CDC in 1972 to form his own company, with research and development facilities in Chippewa Falls but with the business headquarters back in Minneapolis.

Cray-2 supercomputer
Cray-2 supercomputer

The Cray-1 was a major success when it was released, faster than all computers at the time except for the ILLIAC IV. The first system was sold within a month for US$8.8 million. Seymour Cray continued working, this time on the Cray-2, though in the end it only ended up being marginally faster than the Cray X-MP, developed by another team at the company.

He soon left the CEO position to become an independent contractor. He started a new lab in Colorado, Cray Labs', during the 1980s, and this was spun off in 1989 as Cray Computer Corporation. Seymour Cray worked there on the Cray-3 project, the first attempt at major use of gallium arsenide (GaAs) semiconductors in computing. However, due to changing political climate (collapse of Warsaw Pact and the end of Cold War) resulting in low sales (only one Cray-3 was delivered), the company quickly fell by the wayside, eventually filing for bankruptcy in 1995.

Cray Research continued with the line originally started with the X-MP, adding the Cray Y-MP and then Cray C90 and Cray T90, developments of that series. All of these machines were essentially a small number of Cray-1's in a box, two to four in the X-MP, up to thirty-two in the later machines.

In the late 1980s the high-performance market started to be taken over by a series of massively parallel computers, led by pioneers Thinking Machines, Kendall Square Research, nCUBE, MasPar and Meiko Scientific. At first Cray Research pooh-poohed such approaches, complaining that developing software to effectively use the machines was difficult—which was true in the era of the ILLIAC IV, but becoming less true by the day. Eventually Cray realized that the approach was likely the only way forward and started a five-year project to capture the lead in this area as well. The result was the DEC Alpha-based Cray T3D and T3E series, which ironically leave Cray as the only remaining supercomputer vendor in the market by 2000.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s a number of new vendors introduced small supercomputers, known as minisupercomputers (as opposed to superminis), which started to erode the market that would have otherwise considered a low-end Cray machine. Particularily popular was the Convex Computer series, as well as a number of small-scale parallel machines from companies like Pyramid Technology and Alliant Computer Systems. One such company was SuperTek, whose S-1 machine was an air-cooled CMOS implementation of the X-MP processor. Cray puchased SuperTek in 1989 and sold the S-1 as the Cray XMS, but the machine proved problematic. Meanwhile their not-yet-completed S-2, a Y-MP clone, was later offered as the Cray Y-MP/EL, which started to sell in reasonable numbers in 1991/2. These systems were sold to smaller companies, notably in oil exploration. This line evolved into the Cray J90 and eventually the Cray SV-1.

Cray also purchased some of the assets of Floating Point Systems, another minisuper vendor who had moved into the file server market with their SPARC-based APP line. These machines ran a modified version of Sun Microsystems Solaris Operating Environment, which allowed clusters of up to 64 machines appear as one. Cray sold this system as the Cray SMP Superserver, later upgrading it with faster SuperSPARC's as the Cray CS6400, and finally the Cray CS64000 with the 64-bit UltraSPARC. Cray never seemed to have been terribly successful in this market even though the design was one of the most powerful available, likely due to it being so foreign to their existing market niche.

The SGI years

Cray Research merged with Silicon Graphics (SGI) in February 1996. At the time the industry was highly critical of the move, noting that there was little overlap between the two companies in terms of market or technology.

SGI immediately sold off the Superserver line to Sun, who quickly turned it into the extremely successful E10000 Starfire range of servers. These continue to be sold to this day, and only recently have traditional Intel-based systems started to approach the performance of the systems Sun picked up almost for free.

SGI did use a number of Cray technologies in their attempt to move from the graphics workstation market into supercomputing. Key among these was the use of the Cray-developed HIPPI data-bus and details of the interconnects used in the T3 series.

SGI set up a separate Cray Research Business Unit in August 1999 in preparation for detachment. On March 2 2000, the unit was sold to Tera Corporation. Tera Corporation was then renamed Cray Inc. when the deal closed on April 4 2000.

Current status of Cray Inc.

As of 2004, the main product of the company is the Cray X1 combined architecture vector / MPP supercomputer. In May the same year, Cray was announced to be one of the partners in the U.S. Dept.of Energy's fastest-computer-in-the-world project to build a 50 teraflops machine for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. As of November 2004, the Cray X1 has a maximum measured performance of 5.9 teraflops, being the 29th fastest supercomputer in the world. The reigning supercomputers are currently LLNL's IBM BlueGene/L DD2, which obtained 70.7 teraflops and NASA's SGI Altix-based Columbia, which reached 51.9 teraflops on the LINPACK benchmark.

On 4 October 2004, the company announced the Cray XD1 range of supercomputers which will use 64-bit AMD Opteron CPUs running GNU/Linux. Cray is also completing the Red Storm system being built for Sandia National Laboratories having CPUs clustered in 96-processor cabinets, a theoretical maximum of 300 cabinets in a machine, and a design speed of 41.5 Tflops. While 2004 has not been a particularly good year for Cray due in part to reduced US Government supercomputer spending, many analysts see this as temporary, and Cray hopes to gain market share with the XD1.

Financial Troubles

Cray, Inc. filed an 8-K report (from the Sarbanes-Oxley Act) on March 16 2005 warning of material weaknesses in internal control over financial reporting, specifically, inadequate review of third-party contracts and lack of software application controls and documentation. Management’s disclosure also addressed the possibility of failing SOX 404 compliance testing. “We also expressed our auditors’ serious reservations as to whether we will be able to complete our assessment and whether the auditors will be able to render an opinion on our assessment and/or our internal controls (03/16/05 8-K)”. Cray’s initial filing of its 10-K did not attest to operating effectiveness of internal controls as expected. Notes to the consolidated financial statements included a description of two types of material weaknesses discovered at the time of the report. The amended 10-K report, issued on May 3 2005, described several material weaknesses in its control environment:

    1. Control Environment. “Our control environment did not sufficiently promote effective internal control over financial reporting throughout our management structure, and this material weakness was a contributing factor in the development of other material weaknesses described below. Principal contributing factors included the lack of permanent employees in key financial reporting positions, resistance to change of long-held practices developed in an entrepreneurial and trust culture, the lack of a formal program for training members of our finance and accounting group and a lack of a full evaluation of our financial system applications due to incomplete documentation and testing of key controls. Our control environment also contributed to our inability to evaluate fully our general computer controls, financial system application controls and tax controls...”
    1. Risk Assessment.
    1. Segregation of Duties. (The following items relate to the financial system application control weaknesses stated above):
      1. Permitting changes to inventory quantity information within the financial application system without appropriate review;
      2. Providing users access within our financial application system to areas outside of their responsibilities; and
      3. Permitting the creation, modification and updating of customer or vendor data without a secondary level of review or approval.
    1. Inadequate Staffing and Training in Finance and Accounting.
    2. Inadequate Oversight of Accounting Transactions.
    3. Inadequate Controls Over Journal Entry Approvals.
    4. Complex Contract Accounting Procedures.
    5. Tax Controls.

Cray prefaced its assessment by stating the fact that they were incomplete in their review, “[Management] performed an incomplete review of financial applications and general computer controls and tax controls and did not perform a formalized entity-level risk assessment.”

Further contributing to Cray’s problems was the loss of both the chief financial officer and financial reporting manager in the fourth quarter of 2004, and the head of information technology in the first quarter of 2005. In the first quarter of 2005 Cray hired a director of internal audit and Sarbanes-Oxley compliance to relieve pressure from the corporate controller. Cray’s stock price dropped 128%, from $3.15 per share on March 15 2005, to $1.38 on May 25 2005.

On June 15, 2005, a class action suit was filed against Cray on behalf of shareholders who purchased securities between July 31 and May 12. The suit accuses that the company had misrepresented financial data.


  • As the Cray computers were extremely expensive machines, they were sold in relatively low volumes (compared to ordinary mainframes). Thus, most sites with a Cray installation considered it quite prestigious to be a member of the "exclusive club" of Cray operators. This extended to countries as well. To boost the perception of exclusivity, Cray Research's marketing department had promotional neckties made with a mosaic of tiny national flags illustrating the "club of Cray-operating countries".
  • On a similar note as the above-mentioned "club tie", in at least one instance (a Cray X-MP sold to SINTEF/NTH in Norway) Cray delivered the supercomputer system equipped with the purchasing institution's national flag Missing image

    mounted on a little flagpole on top of the main unit.
  • Cray employees have sometimes been known as "Crayons."
  • In the 1970s and 1980s, IBM Corp. and Cray Research competed to be the maker of the fastest computer on earth. Cray won every time: a computer that would eventually break the world record set by a previous Cray was a new Cray.


Cray Research (1972–2000; part of SGI 1996–2000)

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A Cray SX-6 Supercomputer

Cray Computer Corp. (1989–1995)

Cray Inc. (2000–present; result of merger between Tera Computers and Cray Research)

External links


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