HPE Investing $22 Million in Former Cray Facilities in Ramp Up to Exascale Era

By Tiffany Trader

February 3, 2021

Hewlett Packard Enterprise is strengthening its Chippewa Falls, Wisc., presence with a $22 million investment that will establish a Global Center of Excellence for High Performance Compute Manufacturing and create approximately 30 new jobs. Other HPE facilities will also benefit from the investment, according to a company representative. The news comes as plans for the United States’ — and possibly the world’s — first exascale systems hit hyperdrive.

Blueprints in the new mechanical room for the OLCF’s upcoming Frontier exascale computer. Photo by Carlos Jones/ORNL.

The U.S. Department of Energy is expecting to field three exascale machines within as many years — all based on the HPE Cray EX (formerly Shasta) architecture. The frontrunner, Frontier, is slated for delivery at Oak Ridge National Laboratory later this year. Aurora at Argonne National Laboratory and El Capitan at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory will follow.

A press release put out by the Wisconsin Governor’s office notes that currently “four large computer systems” for the U.S. government are being manufactured at the site. Customer confidentiality prevented Cray from confirming the specific systems, but it is reasonable to think that Frontier, slated to be the nation’s first exascale system, is among them.

“[The investment] reaffirms the great relationship our state has had with HPE and Cray over the many years they’ve been in Chippewa Falls,” said Governor Evers. “It sets us on a course toward even greater growth, bringing more family supporting jobs, expanding opportunities, and bolstering economic activity not only in the Chippewa Valley area, but across our state.”

HPE could potentially receive an additional $8 million in tax credits over the next five years. A plan currently under review by the Wisconsin legislature cites HPE’s robust contribution to the local economy as a provider of 500 high-paying jobs.

Wisconsin and the Chippewa Valley benefit from HPE’s presence in other ways. Government officials note “a significant impact on Wisconsin suppliers” with HPE purchasing $12 million in materials from area suppliers in the last year, in addition to contracting with local service providers, construction firms and utilities.

Cray Research founder and “father of supercomputing” Seymour Cray stands next to the Cray-1 system (circa 1976)

“I want to thank Governor Evers and the [Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation] for helping us strengthen our presence in Wisconsin,” said Pete Ungaro, general manager of high performance computing and mission critical solutions at HPE. “Cray and HPE have a long history in the Chippewa Valley, and we’re excited to grow this rapidly expanding part of HPE’s business in the region through our HPC Manufacturing Center of Excellence.”

HPE inherited its strong foothold in Chippewa Falls when it acquired Cray, Inc. for $1.3 billion in 2019. “We have a long history of system builds and close collaboration with local engineering teams,” said HPE.

Chippewa Falls is the birthplace of supercomputing pioneer Seymour Cray. The legacy of the American brand extends to 1972 when Seymour Cray founded Cray Research, Inc. in his hometown. The iconic Cray-1 debuted three years later. Local highway 178, which runs by several HPE/Cray buildings, was designated “Seymour Cray Blvd” following Cray’s death in 1996.

HPE carries the Cray lineage forward with the HPE Cray EX supercomputer line, the foundation of the U.S. exascale program. A longtime fixture of Silicon Valley, HPE is in the process of relocating its corporate headquarters to Houston from San Jose, Calif.

An HPE spokesperson told us the company has begun work on the Global Center of Excellence and plans to have it completed this summer.

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