Seymour Cray and supercomputers #history


On this day in 1957 Seymour Cray co-founded Control Data Corporation

Extract from The PC Pioneers

Seymour Cray had previously worked at Engineering Research Associates on computer design for the US Navy. At CDC in Minneapolis, worked on cooling technologies and magnetic amplifiers and was responsible for the design of the CDC1604, CDC6600 and CDC7000.

In 1968 he helped design the CDC 7600, a second-generation refrigerated supercomputer that until 1975 was claimed to be the fastest computer in the world.  Its performance was rated at 10-megaflops when using hand-compiled code.  A megaflop represents 106 floating point operations per second.

The CDC 7600 ran a million times faster than a modern calculator, but then in reality a calculator needs only to operate just a little faster than the operator so they are usually built to achieve around 10 FLOPS.

In the late 1960s to early 1970s Cray was involved in developing the CDC8600; essentially this was four 7600s put into one case with a parallel computing capability.  But this ran into technical difficulties.  At the time the organisation was also rather over extended on the CDC STAR-100 and this led to Cray moving on in 1972 to found Cray Research.

There he developed the Cray-1.  There was a feeding frenzy for the first installation.  The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory narrowly lost out and in 1976 the first Cray 1 was installed at the Los Alamos National Laboratory on a six-month trial basis.

In 1977 the National Center for Atmospheric Research was the first formal customer, paying just under $8m for the computer and a further $1m for the software.

The Cray 1 took the computer to even higher performances though was forecast to have a global sales potential of twelve units, however it sold over eighty at between $5m and $8m a pop.  It was a 64-bit system and operated at an effective 140 FLOPS, though it was planned to achieve 160 FLOPS; with vector instruction software innovations it could peak at 250 FLOPS.

The Cray XT5 Jaguar installed at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 2009 was able to sustain 1.759 petaflops, and is, as I write this, the fastest supercomputer.


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