Cray Buying Appro to Expand Supercomputing Efforts

Cray will spend $25 million to buy Appro, which gives the supercomputer maker greater capabilities in the compute cluster space.

Supercomputer maker Cray is buying rival Appro for $25 million, a move that will expand Cray's capabilities in the computer cluster market.

Cray executives announced the deal Nov. 9, the same day they released the company's financial numbers from the third quarter and a day after unveiling the next generation of supercomputers with the introduction of the massive XC30, the company's first supercomputer to leverage Intel technology.

Cray's supercomputers are based on tightly integrated systems linked together by proprietary, high-speed networking technologies. For its part, Appro's compute clusters are built using industry-standard connectivity, such as InfiniBand. Peter Ungaro, president and CEO of Cray, said Appro will be a good fit for his company and will complement the products that Cray already has in place.

With Appro in place, Cray will have systems that can address demand from more than 80 percent of the $4.3 billion supercomputing market, Ungaro said. It also will help Cray extend its reach in such areas as storage, services and big data, a growing area that is attracting server makers such as IBM, Dell and Hewlett-Packard, which also offer standards-based systems.

"Appro helps us fill out our product portfolio with a more flexible offering in the technical enterprise and high-end supercomputing market, giving us a strong solution for customers who want different technology options," he said Nov. 9 during a conference call with analysts and journalists to talk about Cray's third-quarter financial performance. "And with a full suite of market-leading HPC solutions, we now have something to offer nearly every supercomputer user in the world, a position I'm very excited to be in going forward."

The deal was announced just days before the SC12 supercomputing show gets under way in Salt Lake City.

Cray executives said they expect the deal for the privately held Appro to close within the next few days or weeks. Once that's done, Appro technology and employees will help form a new cluster business within Appro, headed by Daniel Kim, Appro's founder and CEO. Ungaro said he expects to bring about 90 Appro employees—the "vast majority" of the company's workforce—over to Cray. Appro's high-performance computing (HPC) cluster solutions will be sold under the Cray brand.

Growing Competition in HPCs, Supercomputers

The supercomputer and HPC segments are becoming increasingly competitive, not only because of the new workloads coming out of research and educational institutions, but also because of the demand from enterprises for greater compute capabilities, high availability and improved energy efficiency to handle the tasks being generated by such data center trends as cloud computing.

In the supercomputing space, Appro offers the Xtreme-X and Xtreme-Cool systems, powered by processors from either Intel or Advanced Micro Devices. Most recently, the company announced Nov. 5 that its Xtreme-X will support AMD's new Opteron 6300 server chips. The company also sells the GreenBlade blade server that leverages Intel and AMD chips as well as GPU accelerators from Nvidia, and two- or four-socket rack mount servers.

There also is Appro's HPC Software Stack, which uses various versions of Linux and offers tools for the Xtreme-X supercomputer, such as job scheduling, failover and load balancing. In addition, Appro sells its Appro Cluster Engine (ACE) management suite, which Cray's Ungaro said was an important factor in the decision to buy Appro.

"They build among the most advanced, scalable industry-standard clusters in the world, featuring their unique ACE management software," he said, adding that ACE is "very, very strong in the cluster market. So I feel like we're not only getting a great team and a nice addition to our product business that's very complementary with our XC30 and all the other systems that we have, but we're also getting some great differentiated software."

Changes at Cray

Cray has undergone some changes recently, such as selling its networking assets—including the Gemini and Aries interconnect technologies—to Intel for $140 million. Cray now licenses the technology from Intel. The company also is looking to grow its storage capabilities, as well as address the expanding big data trend.

"We've been talking for quite a while about our two main goals: To be the leader in the supercomputing market and to grow profitably both our top and bottom line," Ungaro said. "This acquisition allows us to execute against both these goals faster than we could do on our own. By leveraging Cray's brand and worldwide sales and service organizations, we expect to attack a larger percentage of the supercomputing market."

He said he expects Appro to add $60 million to Cray's bottom line in 2013. Ungaro said Cray also had been looking at other potential companies to buy, but that Appro was the best fit for what his company is trying to accomplish.

For the third quarter, Cray lost $5.2 million on revenue of $35.7 million, a drop from the $36.7 million in revenue during the same period in 2011.