It is with great sadness that we report the passing of American computer architect Burton J. Smith on April 3, 2018. Our condolences go out to his family, colleagues and friends. Smith was an MIT and Microsoft alum, a renowned parallel computing expert and a leader in the HPC community. He delivered the keynote address at the 2007 International Supercomputing Conference in Dresden, Germany, detailing how computing would be reinvented for the multicore era (*).
Smith cofounded Tera Computer Company in 1987, and served as chief scientist and a member of the board of directors until 2005, and was chairman from 1988 to 1999. In 2000, Tera acquired the Cray Research division of Silicon Graphics, and changed its name to Cray Inc. Smith was the principal architect of the Cray MTA-2 (**).
In 2005, Smith joined Microsoft Corp. as a technical fellow to help expand the company’s efforts in the areas of parallel and high-performance computing. Earlier in his career, Smith worked at Denelcor, Inc. and the Defense Analyses Supercomputing Research Center.
Smith received the prestigious Seymour Cray Computer Engineering Award from the IEEE Computer Society in 2003. The inscription read: “For ingenious and sustained contributions to designs and implementations at the frontier of high performance computing and especially for his sustained championing of the use of multithreading to enable parallel execution and overcome latency and to achieve high performance in industrially significant products.”
“Innovation by many individuals and organizations has enabled high-performance computing to make enormous contributions to science, engineering, national security and the quality of life,” said Smith in accepting the honor. “On behalf of Cray and all my friends in the HPC community, I look forward to seeing the continued benefits that innovative ideas will make possible.”
In 1991 Smith received the Eckert-Mauchly Award, jointly bestowed by the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the Association for Computing Machinery. He was a Fellow of the National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Smith attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned his S.M., E.E. and Sc.D. degrees. He taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Colorado from 1970-1979.
Smith is survived by two daughters, Julia and Katherine; his wife Dorothy had preceded him in death.
Microsoft’s tribute to Smith: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/blog/honoring-burton-smith-visionary-creative-computing/
Cray’s tribute to Smith: https://www.cray.com/blog/remembering-burton-smith/
Burton Smith’s Microsoft profile: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/people/burtons/