SGI Targets Midrange Sci Tech Market With Linux-Based Server

By Amy Newman (Send Email)
Posted Jan 12, 2004


SGI Monday unveiled the newest edition to its Linux-based Altix line, the SGI Altix 350. With an Intel Itanium 2 processor and Linux operating system, the server is designed to function as a department-level server for organizations in the scientific, technical, and design communities.

SGI set its sites on the midrange server sweet spot within scientific, technical, and design communities Monday when it unveiled the latest addition to its Itanium 2, Linux-based Altix line.

The Altix 350 joins SGI's other Altix offering, the Altix 3000, SGI's clusterable supercomputer offering released in January 2003. Like the Altix 350, the Altix 3000 uses an Intel Itanium 2 processor and Linux operating system. The Altix 350 follows the same basic architecture as the Altix 3000 but is designed for deployments in situations where the Altix 3000 would be overkill.

The Altix 350 arose from SGI's realization that although the midrange technical computing market is a $2.6 billion market, proprietary systems account for 80 percent of activity, Jacque Powers, product marketing manager for the Altix 350, told ServerWatch. Seeing opportunity, SGI ported many of the features found in its Irix-based Origin server line to the open source and industry standard based servers that make up the Altix line. Many of the proprietary features from the Origin systems are available in the optimized version of Red Hat Linux that runs on the Altix servers. SUSE Linux 8.x is also available, and Powers says SGI is "planning to optimize on SUSE in the near future."

SGI's key selling point for Altix servers is their capability to scale up. This runs contrary to the widely held belief that Linux is stronger in scaling out than in scaling up (i.e., many machines with few processors vs. few machines with many processors). According to Powers, part of SGI's focus in 2003 was "on trying to prove Linux is a high-end scalable system."

Powers added that the Altix servers avoid the pitfalls that other vendors encounter because of its underlying NUMAflex architecture, which enables one processor to share up to 192 GB of memory. This architecture was originally developed for the Origin line and was ported from Irix to Linux when the Altix line launched.

The other key feature of the Altix 350 is an expand-on-demand option whereby enterprises can expand I/O processor memory as required. On purchase, the box is filled with memory modules totalling 192 GB of memory. These modules are then turned on when needed, enabling the enterprise to scale I/O "independent of processor or memory," as additional memory does not require an increase in the amount of processing power, Powers says.

The Altix 350 is currently capable of scaling up to 16 processors. The Altix 3000; however, scales up to 64 processors. In February, it will be beefed up to support 128 processors, Powers says. She also notes that one customer has already scaled its Altix 3000 to 512 processors.

Since launching last January, Altix servers have been deployed in more than 150 organizations, including Tata Motors, NASA Ames Research Center, University of Cambridge COSMOS Project, SARA (Dutch National HPC and Networking Center), Marathon Oil & Gas, and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

The SGI Altix 350 is priced starting at $12,199. A 4-processor configuration carries at a list price of $21,599, or $5,400 per processor. SGI is claiming a 50 percent price and up to 75 percent performance advantage for the Altix 350, compared to similar, albeit proprietary Unix SMP, servers from Sun Microsystems, IBM, and Hewlett-Packard.

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