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Hewlett Packard Enterprise to acquire Cray, consolidating supercomputer power

It'll pay $1.3 billion to take over the maker of what'll be the world's fastest machine.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise is concentrating more supercomputing power in its own hands, announcing Friday a plan to acquire Cray just weeks after the high-performance computing specialist announced it'll make what could become the fastest supercomputer ever.

HPE said it's agreed to acquire Seattle-based Cray in an all-cash deal worth about $1.3 billion expected to close by January 2020. The acquisition of the high-performance computing company will expand HPE's portfolio and help lower the cost of Cray's technology such as Slingshot, a high-speed network linking computing nodes into one big supercomputer, the company said.

On May 7, the US Department of Energy said it's working with Cray and AMD to build one of the world's most powerful computers, called Frontier, due to arrive in 2021. It will have a performance of 1.5 exaflops, or 1.5 quintillion calculations per second, which is faster than the 1.0 exaflops supercomputer Cray is working on with Intel called the Aurora

Supercomputers are massive machines sometimes occupying as much room as a basketball court usually used to simulate reality in extraordinary detail. That can be used for projects like reconstructing the history of the universe, estimating if decades-old nuclear weapons will still explode, designing engines and aircraft, and forecasting the effects of global climate change.

"Cray is a global technology leader in supercomputing and shares our deep commitment to innovation," HPE President and CEO Antonio Neri said in a statement. "By combining our world-class teams and technology, we will have the opportunity to drive the next generation of high-performance computing and play an important part in advancing the way people live and work."

Cray's historic supercomputer name

The Cray name is synonymous with supercomputing. Founded by Seymour Cray in 1972 after years working on scientific computers at his earlier company, Control Data Corp., it produced a series of high-power, high-prestige machines snapped up by customers like national laboratories doing nuclear weapons research.

But supercomputing has been a tough business, and Cray's corporate reality has changed as much as the computer technology it sells.

High-performance computing rival Silicon Graphics, later called SGI, acquired Cray in 1996, while then-hot Sun Microsystems expanded its business computing ambitions by buying Cray's 64-processor UE10000 "Starfire" design, sold as Sun's Enterprise 10000.

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SGI ultimately sold the Cray assets to a small supercomputing firm, Tera Computer, in 2000, which renamed itself after the better-known brand.

Now it's HPE's turn to take over, continuing its consolidation of the supercomputing market. Last year, HPE also acquired SGI. And if you need another illustration of the market's instability, Rackable Systems acquired SGI and took over its name in 2009.

HPE and Cray didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. 

Originally published May 17, 8:23 a.m. PT.
Update, 9:54 a.m. PT: Adds more history and background.