The ‘Jurassic Park’ Computer Company Just Got Sold for $1.3 Billion

May 17, 2019 Updated: May 17, 2019

New York—Cray has been synonymous with supercomputing for nearly half a century. Now the legendary tech company is joining the business that pioneered Silicon Valley: HP Enterprise.

HPE announced it will buy Cray (CRAY) for $1.3 billion. Cray’s stock shot up nearly 23% Friday.

Cray briefly achieved pop-culture fame in the 1990s when author Michael Crichton wrote “Jurassic Park.” In the 1990 novel, four Cray X-MP supercomputers powered the theme park’s DNA sequencer that brought dinosaurs back to life. In the 1993 film, Jurassic Park’s DNA sequencing lab was powered by Cray computers in the background.

Although never quite a household name, Cray brought supercomputing into the modern era. Seymour Cray, known as “the father of supercomputing,” founded Cray Research in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, in 1972.

The first Cray computer, the Cray-1, was less than a thousandth the speed of an iPhone XS and had 8 MB of memory (0.2% of the iPhone’s memory). It cost just under $9 million ($33 million in today’s dollars, adjusted for inflation).

A trader passes by the post where Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co., is traded on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange
A trader passes by the post where Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co., is traded on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, on May 25, 2016. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

But Cray computers were a game-changer. They revolutionized weather forecasting simulations decades ago, and they continue to predict weather today. NOAA’s weather-prediction system is built by Cray, Dell (DELL) and IBM (IBM). Supercomputers are also used for national defense and scientific research, among other projects.

The human genome was first processed on a supercomputer (years after “Jurassic Park” predicted DNA sequencing), and University of Illinois scientists used a Cray computer to build the world’s first genetic sequencing machine that can be used in hospitals.

Cray has another tie-in to “Jurassic Park”: The movie’s dinosaurs were built on computers made by Silicon Graphics Inc., which bought Cray in 1996. The company was sold to Tera Computer Co. in 2000, which changed its name to Cray.

CEO of CRAY and Silicon Graphics 1996
J. Phillip Samper, Chairman and CEO of Cray Research, Inc. and Edward R. McCracken, Chairman and CEO of Silicon Graphics, Inc. pose after a press conference in New York, on Feb. 23, 1996. (Mark D. Philips/AFP/Getty Images)

Now headquartered in Seattle, Cray is in the process of building the fastest supercomputer ever. The $600 million machine will live at the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. It will be capable of 1.5 quintillion (billion billion) calculations per second. That’s 9.4 billion times faster than the Cray-1 and 50 times faster than the next-fastest supercomputer.

Cray’s new supercomputer, nicknamed “Frontier,” will be used for scientific research, renewable energy innovation, and national security, according to the Energy Department.

HPE said it is buying Cray to support its data analysis business for corporations.

“Cray is a global technology leader in supercomputing and shares our deep commitment to innovation,” said Antonio Neri, HPE’s CEO, in a statement. “We will have the opportunity to drive the next generation of high performance computing and play an important part in advancing the way people live and work.”

HPE’s stock finished the day up slightly.