SGI looks to supercomputer of the future

Silicon Graphics hopes to reinvent its large multiprocessor supercomputers as high-performance machines that can take advantage...

Silicon Graphics hopes to reinvent its large multiprocessor supercomputers as high-performance machines that can take advantage of a wide variety of processor architectures.

SGI makes servers such as the 128-processor Altix supercomputer for researchers and scientists who require a great deal of computing power for complex tasks. The goal of "Project Ultraviolet" is to build a server that can run a number of different types of processors, said Dave Parry, senior vice president and general manager of SGI's server and platform group.

Systems developed through Project Ultraviolet will incorporate general-purpose processors such as Intel's Itanium 2 as well as field programmable gate array chips that can be configured by users for specific tasks.

"This is a science-driven architecture. We want to provide a computational architecture and programming environment to allow scientists to spend their time on science, not computer science," Parry said.

SGI's approach will be to develop a system architecture that can perform a number of different analyses on data at the same time, allowing scientists to tackle complex problems from a variety of angles. it will use its Numaflex memory architecture to allow users to store entire databases in a pool of shared memory that can interact faster with the system's processors than other distributed architectures.

Another approach to supercomputing is to group a number of less expensive PCs or servers into a cluster. Systems built using that approach are climbing the Top 500 list of the world's fastest supercomputers, but a large multiprocessor system is better equipped to handle a variety of complex scientific computing tasks than a cluster, which is better suited for simpler, labour-intensive tasks.

SGI will develop servers under Project Ultraviolet that range from small two-way servers to large supercomputers. The first results of the effort will not arrive until 2005, with a complete system due out around 2007.

Tom Krazit writes for IDG News Service

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