rather than compete.
In a general session of the North Carolina CUG,
Ed McCracken, who was
awarded the U.S. Medal of Technology in 1995 and is chair and chief executive officer of Silicon
Graphics, spoke about the new Silicon Graphics, Inc./Cray Research, Inc. (SGI/CRI).
A brief history of SGI
SGI, started in 1980 and incorporated in 1982, originally focused on
applications-oriented silicon chips. The Defense Advanced Research Projects
Agency (DARPA) "geometry engine"
led to SGI's focus in 1983 on being a computer terminal company. In
1984 that focus was shifting to workstations, and in 1985 the company
went public. Products in 1986 focused on the desktop. In 1988, SGI
introduced the Power Series servers, which became the Challenge
line in the 1990s.
SGI is aggressive and reactive to market demands; rapid introduction
of high technology is the company's hallmark. SGI pursues four
The roughly $4 billion business is split approximately
high-end and low-end performance systems. The high-end business
consists of three sectors.
- Manufacturing, accounting for more than one-third of SGI's business, in areas such as automotive and aircraft
- Defense and intelligence, also roughly one-third of SGI's business,
focused on image processing and flight or mission simulation
- Science, representing more than one-sixth of SGI's business, including
weather and environmental, oil and gas, pharmaceutical, physics,
and the university market
- Tele-entertainment, currently less than one-sixth of SGI's business,
although popular with the press
- Graphics supercomputers ($0.5B) with slow growth, where SGI
has 70% of the market and the competition is mostly "black box"
- Database systems ($0.5B) in large data warehouses and large
World Wide Web content warehouses--to manage "rooms and rooms of data"
with databases, some for visualization and analysis and some not for
- Classic supercomputers ($1B, two-thirds CRI and one-third SGI)
for which SGI-CRI has 65% of the market and is twice the size of the
"Just in time" research
SGI itself doesn't do a lot of research; its "just in time research"
approach is one of finding solutions from a pipeline of new ideas
which SGI then engineers into a solution. SGI's location was chosen
to be within a 10-minute drive from Stanford University and other
institutions. The DASH project at Stanford led to the SGI Origin
product line. SGI is on the lookout for signs of "nonlinear engineering
The supercomputing market is important; moreso is the technical
market. The commercial market is not interested in computer
architecture as is the technical market.
Why did SGI buy CRI?
CRI needed to broaden their product line and R&D, so CRI approached
SGI--to cooperate rather than compete. SGI liked the CRI technology,
especially CRI's software technology, algorithmic expertise,
understanding of high-end customers, unique "Cray" name, and
customer-service activities. While SGI may have been regarded as
"SGI wants to sell" to customers, CRI is regarded as "CRI wants to be
a partner" with customers.
To address customer service, Mick Dungworth, former chief of CRI
Sales and Service, has been appointed vice president of Worldwide
Service for SGI and SGI-CRI products. In surveys, the number-one
rank for customer satisfaction and loyalty went to SGI in the
workstation category and to CRI in the supercomputer category.
new SGI-CRI wants to partner, to understand customers' business
needs, to collaborate; it also wants to find a way to communicate the
long-term vision of the future (which SGI historically has done in
private) in one-on-one sessions with customers.
Contrary to rumors that SGI will kill CRI products, especially
parallel-vector systems, there are plans to add on to the existing CRI
product line with a new generation of the T90 and a new J90 follow-on
product. As it happens, there was a relatively similar technology
plan for the CRI "scaleable node" and the SGI "Project LEGO."
The ASCI Blue Mountain project was granted to SGI-CRI's scalable
node technology with a target of 4,000 processors. This will be
approached in phases, starting with the recently-announced Origin
2000, and eventually incorporating vector processing.
Supercomputing at SGI-CRI is just beginning. The year 2010 will
bring the possibility of 100 million elements on a chip and
one-thousand-fold speed-ups; each technology generation from today will
make progress toward that. The issue is software, and that is where
CRI comes in. The CRAY Origin 2000 models will start at the point
beyond 64 processors in the current Origin 2000 line. The National
Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of
Illinois will have a system with 128 processors.
Looking for discontinuities, those windows of maximum opportunity,
requires working together with the best and brightest of customers,
applications developers, and technology developers. The market is
being driven more and more to a commodity position, but better
money can be made in the first 5 to 10 years. So, the business model
"Be there first and charge a little more."
Generating more new products faster is necessary to support a 50%
margin and 12- to-13% investment in R&D--and to be distinguished
from a commodity markets of perhaps 30% margin and 2%
investment in R&D.
The role of CUG, the Cray User Group
The potential value added from investment in R&D enables solving
today's problems and it also facilitates looking ahead to the year
2010. The challenge for CUG is to be part of that solution and part of
that vision of the future. For SGI-CRI, being good partners means
being good listeners. The risk with user groups is driving a company
in a linear
CUG should relate to all high-end or high-performance computing
areas of SGI-CRI. This includes
graphics supercomputing and database supercomputing as well as
classic supercomputing (which now includes the Origin 2000 product
line anchoring the entry point for supercomputing).
CUG should work to expand the applications base, to maximize
applications potential of SGI-CRI platforms. And, CUG should add
working sessions that target the future between today and the year