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The Altix 3300 and Altix 3700 use a standard version of Linux compatible with Red Hat Linux version 7.2. The Altix 3300 can be configured with a single node of between four and 12 Itanium 2 processors, while the Altix 3700 uses between 16 and 64 Itanium 2 processors in a node.
Each node contains a single Linux operating system image and up to 512Gbytes of memory. The Altix 3000 machines will be ideal for clustering, because SGI's Numalink interconnect technology allows users to connect nodes and share memory across processors, said Jan Silverman, senior vice-president of marketing for SGI.
Numalink technology - which has been used in SGI's Origin 3000 servers - allows data to transfer back and forth almost instantaneously among clustered systems. Distributed systems can pool their memory resources through this technology, greatly reducing the time needed to process a task, Silverman said.
Companies could put their databases into memory rather than storing them on disk, reducing the time needed to process analysis tasks from weeks to days.
SGI will support clusters of up to 512 processors this year, and will allow users to build clusters beyond 1,000 processors next year, said Andy Senselau, product manager for the Altix 3000 family.
The company's target market of researchers and creative professionals has been clamouring for a Linux operating environment that will allow them to break free of their dependence of proprietary platforms, Silverman said.
However, SGI manufactures a line of proprietary systems, the Origin 3000 family, which comes with the company's Irix operating system. The Altix machines allow SGI to tap into the rapidly growing Linux market, while still offering the advanced features of Irix to those users will to pay a premium.
"Irix has application capability that isn't present in Linux. People depend on the reliability and security features within Irix, and it's not easy to put those features into Linux," Silverman said.
SGI is including a number of software programs with the Altix 3000 series for resource and data management. A toolkit for Linux developers will follow over the coming months, the company said.
The entry-level Altix 3300 server starts at $70,176 (£43,560) in the US with four processors and 32Gbytes of memory. At the high end, the Altix 3700 with 64 processors starts at $1,129,262. Users can add components as required.
The machines are available for purchase from today (Tuesday), but delivery will take place some time in the first quarter.