Shaking on Solid Ground

By Nicole Hemsoth

August 24, 2011

Cray’s history as a business has been convoluted at best, but these days the company appears to be standing tall.  As an investment-focused publication pointed out this week, Cray is currently in great financial shape with no debt and around $132 million in cash.

While that might sound like grand news, keep in mind that this is a company that has not traditionally been profitable. “The firm recorded just 2 years of net profitability since 2003. Sales depend on just a handful of system sales every quarter, making results lumpy and unpredictable.”

Operating at an unpredictable but sustainable level is one thing—but when this business comes is due to a vast majority of customers that are tied somehow to direct government funding, it’s even more uncertain. Historically, over 70% of revenue has come from the feds (in 2010 it was a bit lower at 62%), but in this economy one cannot count on the government.

Government funding for a wide range of projects, including what had been set aside for DARPA’s High Productivity Computing Systems Initiative, has been cut by 17% and there is a chance that the cuts could extend farther.

Add to this even more uncertainty from the changing nature of HPC buying. As the author points out, “high performance systems continue to converge towards “off-the-shelf” server components.

As commodity computing parts get ever more powerful, they can take over operations that once required specialized low-end supercomputers.” This could potentially take a huge chunk out of Cray’s business, if it hasn’t already.

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