Steve Jobs: The Seymour Cray of Personal Computing

By Michael Feldman

October 6, 2011

There are only a handful of people in the computer business that rate the title ‘industry icon,’ and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was surely one of them. Jobs died Wednesday at the age of 56, just two months after leaving his CEO role at the company due to his deteriorating health. Although a controversial figure at times, Jobs managed to shape the multi-billion dollar personal computing industry, which he helped create.

In a very real sense, Jobs invented personal computing in 1976 when he, along with Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne launched Apple Computer. Or at least he defined what personal computing was all about: the user experience, rather than the computing experience.

For the next three and a half decades, Jobs refined and expanded what that experience could be, leading consumer computing from desktop PCs to media players, then smartphones and now tablets. Other companies followed his lead — sometimes successfully, sometime not — but it was Jobs who set the pace.

And he managed to do all of this from a company that often struggled with profitability and market share. Today, Apple is a multinational giant, and is, in fact, the biggest and most profitable consumer electronics empire on the planet. As of last month, Apple was also world’s largest publicly traded company by market capitalization; at a value of $222 billion, it surpassed even Microsoft.

There is, in that sense, no equivalent to Jobs and the Apple empire in high performance computing. At least not today. But Seymour Cray and the company he built by the same name, was, and is, in many ways, the Apple of supercomputing. Cray, the company, has a single-minded focus on all things HPC, and innovates accordingly. Cray, the man, is recognized as the father of that domain, and like Jobs, shaped its business.

And he did it roughly during the same time period as Jobs’ early days at Apple. Cray founded Cray Research in 1972, introducing the Cray-1 vector supercomputer in 1976. That cutting-edge beauty of its day, with its iconic bench seating, had the look of a Star Trek computer, and delivered a 170 megaflops. That was at a time when HPC users coveted anything that could deliver more than a handful of megaflops. The current iPad 2, by the way, is about 10 times as powerful as that original system.

Unlike Jobs though, Cray’s devotion to supercomputing never made him or his company rich. In 1989 he exited Cray Research and launched Cray Computer Corporation, which subsequently went belly up in 1995. Cray then launched his final company, SRC Computers, to build his next-generation super. The design work had just begun when, in 1996, Cray died as a result of a car accident, also coincidentally on October 5. He was 71.

Jobs was more the entrepreneur than Cray, who was a bona fide computer engineer. That matched their respective pursuits appropriately. Jobs strength was envisioning electronic products that the average consumer, not the computer geek, could use and love. Cray, on the other hand, was catering to the elitist of the elite of computer users. Not only did he have to understand that rather rarified community, he also needed its respect as an engineer.

To hope for another Seymour Cray or Steve Jobs is probably asking too much. For high performance computing , especially the commodity HPC business, we could certainly use someone who embodies both Cray’s supercomputing smarts and Jobs’ intuitive understanding of how human beings interact with computers. Even though a lot of companies tout ease-of-use and simplified management, HPC systems still require a hefty understanding of Linux (or Windows), as well as cluster and fabric management. Despite the preoccupation with the so-called “missing middle,” turnkey HPC remains elusive.

But the right type of out-the-box thinker could change all that and reshape the future of this industry. The era of Everyman Supercomputing is perhaps just waiting for the next industry icon. We have a couple of great models to show us the way.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Google Launches New Machine Learning Journal

March 22, 2017

On Monday, Google announced plans to launch a new peer review journal and “ecosystem” Read more…

By John Russell

Swiss Researchers Peer Inside Chips with Improved X-Ray Imaging

March 22, 2017

Peering inside semiconductor chips using x-ray imaging isn’t new, but the technique hasn’t been especially good or easy to accomplish. Read more…

By John Russell

LANL Simulation Shows Massive Black Holes Break “Speed Limit”

March 21, 2017

A new computer simulation based on codes developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory is shedding light on how supermassive black holes could have formed in the early universe contrary to most prior models which impose a limit on how fast these massive ‘objects’ can form. Read more…

Quantum Bits: D-Wave and VW; Google Quantum Lab; IBM Expands Access

March 21, 2017

For a technology that’s usually characterized as far off and in a distant galaxy, quantum computing has been steadily picking up steam. Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HFT Firms Turn to Co-Location to Gain Competitive Advantage

High-frequency trading (HFT) is a high-speed, high-stakes world where every millisecond matters. Finding ways to execute trades faster than the competition translates directly to greater revenue for firms, brokerages, and exchanges. Read more…

Intel Ships Drives Based on 3-D XPoint Non-volatile Memory

March 20, 2017

Intel Corp. has begun shipping new storage drives based on its 3-D XPoint non-volatile memory technology as it targets data-driven workloads. Read more…

By George Leopold

Researchers Recreate ‘El Reno’ Tornado on Blue Waters Supercomputer

March 16, 2017

The United States experiences more tornadoes than any other country. About 1,200 tornadoes touch down each each year in the U.S. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Trump Budget Targets NIH, DOE, and EPA; No Mention of NSF

March 16, 2017

President Trump’s proposed U.S. fiscal 2018 budget issued today sharply cuts science spending while bolstering military spending as he promised during the campaign. Read more…

By John Russell

CPU-based Visualization Positions for Exascale Supercomputing

March 16, 2017

In this contributed perspective piece, Intel’s Jim Jeffers makes the case that CPU-based visualization is now widely adopted and as such is no longer a contrarian view, but is rather an exascale requirement. Read more…

By Jim Jeffers, Principal Engineer and Engineering Leader, Intel

Quantum Bits: D-Wave and VW; Google Quantum Lab; IBM Expands Access

March 21, 2017

For a technology that’s usually characterized as far off and in a distant galaxy, quantum computing has been steadily picking up steam. Read more…

By John Russell

Trump Budget Targets NIH, DOE, and EPA; No Mention of NSF

March 16, 2017

President Trump’s proposed U.S. fiscal 2018 budget issued today sharply cuts science spending while bolstering military spending as he promised during the campaign. Read more…

By John Russell

CPU-based Visualization Positions for Exascale Supercomputing

March 16, 2017

In this contributed perspective piece, Intel’s Jim Jeffers makes the case that CPU-based visualization is now widely adopted and as such is no longer a contrarian view, but is rather an exascale requirement. Read more…

By Jim Jeffers, Principal Engineer and Engineering Leader, Intel

US Supercomputing Leaders Tackle the China Question

March 15, 2017

Joint DOE-NSA report responds to the increased global pressures impacting the competitiveness of U.S. supercomputing. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

New Japanese Supercomputing Project Targets Exascale

March 14, 2017

Another Japanese supercomputing project was revealed this week, this one from emerging supercomputer maker, ExaScaler Inc., and Keio University. The partners are working on an original supercomputer design with exascale aspirations. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Debuts HGX-1 for Cloud; Announces Fujitsu AI Deal

March 9, 2017

On Monday Nvidia announced a major deal with Fujitsu to help build an AI supercomputer for RIKEN using 24 DGX-1 servers. Read more…

By John Russell

HPC4Mfg Advances State-of-the-Art for American Manufacturing

March 9, 2017

Last Friday (March 3, 2017), the High Performance Computing for Manufacturing (HPC4Mfg) program held an industry engagement day workshop in San Diego, bringing together members of the US manufacturing community, national laboratories and universities to discuss the role of high-performance computing as an innovation engine for American manufacturing. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AMD Expands Exascale Vision at IEEE HPC Symposium

March 7, 2017

With the race towards exascale heating up – for example, the Exascale Computing Program PathForward awards are expected soon – AMD delivered more details of its exascale vision at last month’s 23rd IEEE Symposium on High Performance Computer Architecture. The chipmaker presented an “Exascale Node Architecture (ENA) as the primary building block for exascale machine” including descriptions of component, interconnect, and packaging strategy along with simulation benchmarks to bolster its case. Read more…

By John Russell

For IBM/OpenPOWER: Success in 2017 = (Volume) Sales

January 11, 2017

To a large degree IBM and the OpenPOWER Foundation have done what they said they would – assembling a substantial and growing ecosystem and bringing Power-based products to market, all in about three years. Read more…

By John Russell

TSUBAME3.0 Points to Future HPE Pascal-NVLink-OPA Server

February 17, 2017

Since our initial coverage of the TSUBAME3.0 supercomputer yesterday, more details have come to light on this innovative project. Of particular interest is a new board design for NVLink-equipped Pascal P100 GPUs that will create another entrant to the space currently occupied by Nvidia's DGX-1 system, IBM's "Minsky" platform and the Supermicro SuperServer (1028GQ-TXR). Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Tokyo Tech’s TSUBAME3.0 Will Be First HPE-SGI Super

February 16, 2017

In a press event Friday afternoon local time in Japan, Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) announced its plans for the TSUBAME3.0 supercomputer, which will be Japan’s “fastest AI supercomputer,” Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Wants to be “Red Hat” of Deep Learning

January 26, 2017

IBM today announced the addition of TensorFlow and Chainer deep learning frameworks to its PowerAI suite of deep learning tools, which already includes popular offerings such as Caffe, Theano, and Torch. Read more…

By John Russell

Lighting up Aurora: Behind the Scenes at the Creation of the DOE’s Upcoming 200 Petaflops Supercomputer

December 1, 2016

In April 2015, U.S. Department of Energy Undersecretary Franklin Orr announced that Intel would be the prime contractor for Aurora: Read more…

By Jan Rowell

Enlisting Deep Learning in the War on Cancer

December 7, 2016

Sometime in Q2 2017 the first ‘results’ of the Joint Design of Advanced Computing Solutions for Cancer (JDACS4C) will become publicly available according to Rick Stevens. He leads one of three JDACS4C pilot projects pressing deep learning (DL) into service in the War on Cancer. Read more…

By John Russell

Is Liquid Cooling Ready to Go Mainstream?

February 13, 2017

Lost in the frenzy of SC16 was a substantial rise in the number of vendors showing server oriented liquid cooling technologies. Three decades ago liquid cooling was pretty much the exclusive realm of the Cray-2 and IBM mainframe class products. That’s changing. We are now seeing an emergence of x86 class server products with exotic plumbing technology ranging from Direct-to-Chip to servers and storage completely immersed in a dielectric fluid. Read more…

By Steve Campbell

BioTeam’s Berman Charts 2017 HPC Trends in Life Sciences

January 4, 2017

Twenty years ago high performance computing was nearly absent from life sciences. Today it’s used throughout life sciences and biomedical research. Genomics and the data deluge from modern lab instruments are the main drivers, but so is the longer-term desire to perform predictive simulation in support of Precision Medicine (PM). There’s even a specialized life sciences supercomputer, ‘Anton’ from D.E. Shaw Research, and the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center is standing up its second Anton 2 and actively soliciting project proposals. There’s a lot going on. Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

HPC Startup Advances Auto-Parallelization’s Promise

January 23, 2017

The shift from single core to multicore hardware has made finding parallelism in codes more important than ever, but that hasn’t made the task of parallel programming any easier. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPC Technique Propels Deep Learning at Scale

February 21, 2017

Researchers from Baidu’s Silicon Valley AI Lab (SVAIL) have adapted a well-known HPC communication technique to boost the speed and scale of their neural network training and now they are sharing their implementation with the larger deep learning community. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

CPU Benchmarking: Haswell Versus POWER8

June 2, 2015

With OpenPOWER activity ramping up and IBM’s prominent role in the upcoming DOE machines Summit and Sierra, it’s a good time to look at how the IBM POWER CPU stacks up against the x86 Xeon Haswell CPU from Intel. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Sees Bright Future for AI Supercomputing

November 23, 2016

Graphics chipmaker Nvidia made a strong showing at SC16 in Salt Lake City last week. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IDG to Be Bought by Chinese Investors; IDC to Spin Out HPC Group

January 19, 2017

US-based publishing and investment firm International Data Group, Inc. (IDG) will be acquired by a pair of Chinese investors, China Oceanwide Holdings Group Co., Ltd. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

US Supercomputing Leaders Tackle the China Question

March 15, 2017

Joint DOE-NSA report responds to the increased global pressures impacting the competitiveness of U.S. supercomputing. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Trump Budget Targets NIH, DOE, and EPA; No Mention of NSF

March 16, 2017

President Trump’s proposed U.S. fiscal 2018 budget issued today sharply cuts science spending while bolstering military spending as he promised during the campaign. Read more…

By John Russell

Intel and Trump Announce $7B for Fab 42 Targeting 7nm

February 8, 2017

In what may be an attempt by President Trump to reset his turbulent relationship with the high tech industry, he and Intel CEO Brian Krzanich today announced plans to invest more than $7 billion to complete Fab 42. Read more…

By John Russell

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This