SGI boosts processors in Altix 3000

Silicon Graphics has begun shipping a 256-processor version of its Altix 3000 supercomputer, and the company is preparing a...

Silicon Graphics has begun shipping a 256-processor version of its Altix 3000 supercomputer, and the company is preparing a 512-processor product which it expects to begin shipping by the end of the year.

Previously, SGI's largest Altix 3000 system was able to run a single copy of Linux on as many as 64 processors, but the company has been working with beta users since last September in an effort to boost the Altix 3000's processor count.

SGI's goal was originally 128 processors, but results from the beta program have turned out better than expected, said Jason Pettit, product line manager for the Altix 3000.

"Things went so well in the program that we were able to test even larger than 128 processors," he said.  "With this announcement, we'll be expanding the node size from 64 to 256 processors."

Clustered versions of the Altix 3000, which use more than one copy, or "system image", of Linux, will also be available in configurations with four to 512 processors, SGI said.

In May, SGI will offer clustered versions of the Altix 3000 with as many as 1,024 processors.

Powered by Intel Itanium 2 processors, the Altix 3000 is fast approaching SGI's MIPS-based Origin 3000 as SGI's most scalable system. Because of limits in the way the Origin 3000 handles memory, SGI does not expect its proprietary system to handle more than the 512 processors it now supports with a single system image, Pettit said.

The Altix 3000, by contrast, is expected to scale up to 2,048 processors, and SGI is planning to offer its next-generation NUMAlink4 interconnect technology only on the Altix 3000. "Altix will have the technology leadership basically at the beginning of next year," he said.

NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, is already experimenting with a 512-processor Altix 3000 system. While this system presently uses 1 terabyte of memory, it could, eventually, support as much as eight terabytes, said Pettit.

Although Linux has proven popular on two- and four- way servers, interest in big-iron Linux systems that can run one copy of Linux on a large number of processors is still in its infancy.

SGI hoped that its embrace of supercomputers based on Intel and Linux will help the struggling hardware maker. Companies in many of SGI's core markets - energy, media, and the sciences, for example - are re-evaluating the company as a potential supplier, and SGI hoped the power of the Altix 3000 as a research and development tool will give SGI a foot in the door with some new corporate accounts.

The fact that SGI is building such scalable systems using the more open Intel and Linux platform is turning some heads, said John Enck, a research vice president with Gartner.

"They were pretty much perceived, with MIPS on their Irix operating system, to be on a dead-end path," he said. "They have all the technology elements correct. It's just a question of whether their go-to-market strategy can execute on all cylinders."

However, with Intel's 64-bit Itanium processor not receiving the widespread industry adoption once expected, SGI's decision to support Itanium may, eventually, expose it to increased competition from 32-bit system suppliers, Erick said.

Pricing information for the new configurations of the Altix 3000 was not available.

Robert McMillan writes for IDG News Service

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