Honors Gallery

Stirling Energy Systems strategic partnership

Award: Excellence in Technology Transfer

Year: 2010

Award Type:

Region: Mid-Continent

Sandia National Laboratories (SNL)

In 2004, renowned supercomputer maker Cray, Inc., launched the initial product in what would become the most successful commercial massively parallel processing systems in history. The Cray XT supercomputer resulted from a unique partnership between Sandia National Laboratories and Cray. Sandia supplied the system’s architectural design and several fundamental technologies to Cray. They then collaborated closely to deploy the prototype system, called Red Storm, at Sandia. Under the partnership, Sandia and Cray hold some Red Storm patents jointly, while others are used under license. Cray commercialized the Red Storm architecture as the Cray XT3, which has since led to two follow-on products, Cray’s flagship XT4 and XT5 systems.

The success of the technology transfer relationship can be measured in several ways. First, Red Storm enabled Sandia and the Department of Energy to meet their computing needs for modeling and simulation in science, engineering, and national security. These complex simulations can require tens of thousands of processors working in parallel for several weeks on a single problem. The Red Storm architecture was designed to provide a level of scalability and performance beyond anything available at the time, and the system that embodied this architecture did just that. Remarkably, the time from Red Storm’s initial development until its deployment was less than three years—well short of the typical vendor schedule for constructing a system from scratch.

The economic benefits of the Sandia/Cray partnership are significant. Before collaborating with Sandia, Cray was struggling in the small and volatile supercomputing market. In the four years since introducing the XT, Cray sold more than 1,000 XT cabinets to more than 30 sites, making it their most successful product ever. The XT line put Cray on a path to profitability, returning it to viability in supercomputing, with approximately $800 million in revenue, representing 80 percent of their business since 2004.

Red Storm’s impact on the scientific community has been substantial and far-reaching. Systems based on the Red Storm architecture provided numerous scientific breakthroughs and allowed applications to achieve unprecedented scalability and performance. In addition to building several of the most powerful supercomputers in the world, Cray fielded an XT platform at Oak Ridge National Laboratory that was used in winning the most prestigious parallel computing performance award, the Gordon Bell Prize, in 2009.