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Microsoft Supercomputing

Cray Co-Founder Joins Microsoft 169

ergo98 writes "Burton Smith, co-founder and chief scientist at Cray (The Supercomputer Company), has jumped ship. He's joining Microsoft to help them with their clustered computer initiative. Burton joins Microsoft as a technical fellow."
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Cray Co-Founder Joins Microsoft

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  • by Durinia ( 72612 ) on Saturday November 26, 2005 @11:33AM (#14118752)
    Burton was the co-founder of "Tera", the supercomputer company that purchased the old Cray division away from SGI in their 1999 restructuring.

    Tera was founded to develop massively multithreaded machines. After their big purchase, they took the Cray name for continuity with Cray's old customers and products, along with the fact that it's a much more viable "commercial" supercomputing name.

  • by CSHARP123 ( 904951 ) on Saturday November 26, 2005 @11:46AM (#14118798)
    Burton Smith was co-founder of Tera Computer Company not Cray Inc. He could help MS in improving their thread architecture as well.
  • Re:In other news (Score:3, Informative)

    by Alien Being ( 18488 ) on Saturday November 26, 2005 @11:48AM (#14118813)
    A 1985 Cray-2 could do about 4 GFLOPS. That's about the same as today's most powerful CPUs.
  • Not exactly right (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 26, 2005 @12:00PM (#14118850)
    The Cray XD1 uses Opteron processors and runs a variant of SUSE Linux, but uses a custom interconnect. The Cray XT3 uses Opterons and runs Linux on service nodes, and the Catamount lightweight OS on compute nodes. The Cray X1 series has proprietary CPUs, interconnect, and OS. So you're only partly right. Cray does not hesitate to use Linux where it is appropriate. However, when you are doing something like designing your own vector processor from scratch, porting Linux to it just doesn't make sense.

    Linux has certainly proven itself to be a winner in lots of HPC computing applications, and Microsoft has a tough uphill battle to fight if they want to break into this market.

    You do seem to be implying that Linux-based computers running commodity hardware always makes more sense than using things like proprietary interconnects. It can certainly be more cost effective, but if performance is your main goal (this is "high performance computing" after all), custom-designed hardware like the interconnect on the XT3 is always going to smoke the off-the-shelf stuff which does not exclusively target the high end.
  • by Richard Mills ( 17522 ) on Saturday November 26, 2005 @12:33PM (#14118984)
    A good guess might be that that parallel language will be something like the in-development "Chapel" language that Burton has been championing. And Burton certainly has a lot of experience working with threading (google Tera's MTA "Multithreaded Architecture" supercomputer). This hire may turn out to make sense for Microsoft.
  • by Flyboy Connor ( 741764 ) on Saturday November 26, 2005 @01:06PM (#14119113)
    What an oddly old-fashioned way to say he's a tech guy.

    If you did not know, a "fellow" is someone who is funded in a particular way. Usually a fellow is someone whose salary is guaranteed and who is allowed a certain budget for research, and has no obligations to produce anything. The idea is that fellowships are awarded to people who will produce the most valuable stuff if you give them free reign. Although I know of an IBM fellow who after receiving the fellowship went to lie on a beach for the rest of his days.

  • by Logger ( 9214 ) on Saturday November 26, 2005 @01:13PM (#14119145) Homepage
    I was going to make this point as well. He does not represent the Cray you are probably familiar with. The brains of the Cray you all know and love still lives on in Chippewa Falls, WI. Although Seymore Cray has long since left and unfortunately died, they still retain their lead vector computing architects.

    They've fallen on some hard times as of late. When Terra acquired the remenants of Cray from SGI, they continued Terra's parallel processing work. Which never turned out to be much of a business success. Rumor has it that they are putting their efforts back into vector processing.

    Seeing that a Terra co-founder is leaving, this would seem to confirm the shift away from parallel processing (Terra's heritage) and back to vector processing (Cray's heritage.) It has to been tough to compete using the parallel processing business model. It may be a more scalable approach, but everyone and their dog is trying to build these types of systems. Including colleges which whip them together using off the shelf computers. The Terra/Cray advantage was interconnect and memory access speed.

    There still are specialized applications that work best on a vector processor such as weather simulations and atomic simulations.

    Microsoft is probably a better home for Burton Smith given his approach to supercomputing.
  • Re:Unix (Score:4, Informative)

    by CharlesEGrant ( 465919 ) on Saturday November 26, 2005 @01:19PM (#14119168)
    Umm, perhaps this was before your time, or perhaps you're just going for the wry comment, but back in the day Microsoft had it's own version of UNIX: XENIX. They originally sold it on the Tandy and later ported it to the 386. They gradually sold their UNIX business off to *shudder* SCO. In fact I believe at one point AT&T had to by the rights to sell UNIX on the Intel x86 architecture back from Microsoft. Whatever Bill Gates' many sins, not knowing UNIX is not one of them.
  • by icepick72 ( 834363 ) on Saturday November 26, 2005 @01:23PM (#14119185)
    Now all Cray has to do is sue Microsoft because the guy is bringing over trade secrets.
  • by fingusernames ( 695699 ) on Saturday November 26, 2005 @01:23PM (#14119186) Homepage
    Back when I worked at Cray, one project I worked on was the Fortran 90 compiler. The Fortran 90 compiler was developed on Sun SPARC machines and it cross-compiled to the Cray. Crays, even the mighty C-90 back then, weren't that great interactively, and were pretty slow to compile code. Not to mention the fact that Cray CPU time was far more valuable than the Sun machine's. Pre SGI/Tera Cray machines came in two flavors, the original vector processors (C-90 up to 16 or 32 processors?), and the later massively parallel T3 series (with HUNDREDS of DEC Alpha processors). Both were specialized machines which excel at particular tasks. Wickedly fast at those tasks.

    Too many people these days work only on PC architectures, and have no/little exposure to other, superior architectures. The PC was and is designed as a cheap, mass produced general purpose desktop device. It in no way compares to supercomputers, mainframes, or true server architectures. A computing environment is more than the sum of the raw megahertz and bandwidth claims of its disparate parts.

  • by fingusernames ( 695699 ) on Saturday November 26, 2005 @01:48PM (#14119289) Homepage
    Oh my lord. You are calling me a moron, and then you make that completely bullshit statement?

    The X-MP, the Cray-2, the Y-MP. All introduced in the 1980s, and all multi-CPU. The Cray-2 and Y-MP with up to eight processors. How about you try to learn at least a tiny amount about what you write?

  • by computerDr ( 226122 ) on Saturday November 26, 2005 @01:57PM (#14119329)
    but whatever it is, it will be interesting. Burton Smith is a very bright guy who pioneered multithreading computing first at Denelcor, and then Tera, which bought Cray from SGI and adopted its name. He is the founder of the company which is today called Cray, but the original Cray company was, of course, founded by Seymore Cray.

            Burton always reads broadly and thinks broadly. When designing a supercomputer he deals with every issue, from VLSI technology, Architecture, Operating Systems, and Compilers and Applications. He enthusiastically interacts with many experts, in many areas, and attains a very deep understanding of the issues.

              Burton, best of luck at Microsoft.

    Jon Solworth
  • Re:Irresistable (Score:3, Informative)

    by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Saturday November 26, 2005 @02:17PM (#14119421) Journal
    I'mve not seen the XBox 360 BSoD, but the OS X equivalent fades the screen to grey and displays a translucent box (with rounded corners) in the middle of the screen telling you in four langauges that you should reboot your computer.
  • Burton Smith... (Score:5, Informative)

    by eXtro ( 258933 ) on Saturday November 26, 2005 @02:17PM (#14119422) Homepage
    isn't a founder of CRAY. He's a founder of TERA Computer who aquired CRAY in the late 90's. He's a proponent of their multithreadhed architecture - an architecture which has abysmally failed commercially. Since 1988 they've had only one actual cash sale of their system. What this probably means is that CRAY is returning to it's strength of vector supercomputers, such as the CRAY1, CRAY2, XMP, YMP, J90, SV1 and SV2 or possibly massively parallel systems such as the T3E and T3F.

Thus spake the master programmer: "Time for you to leave." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"