Silicon Graphics, best known for developing supercomputers and other high-performance computing technology, is trying its hand at blade servers as a way to expand its offerings within the enterprise space.
At the International Supercomputing Conference in Dresden, Germany, which starts June 26, SGI will unveil the Altix ICE (Integrated Compute Environment) 8200, a new blade architecture that will utilize Intels dual- and quad-core Xeon processors.
The system will also use SGIs "Atoka" motherboard, which was co-developed with Intel and allows a single blade server to use either dual- or quad-core Xeons. The board helps each blade support up to 32GB of RAM, said Louise Westoby, a product marketing manager for SGI. The company already has extensive experience with Intels Itanium processor, but by switching to an x86 architecture, SGI is looking to expand the reach of its HPC products beyond its traditional customer base, Westoby said.
"At this point, more than 50 percent of our systems are now customer-facing, and high-performance computing is much more market-centric than in the past," Westoby said, adding that the increase use in Linux operating systems also led to the company to change its thinking when it comes to HPC.
The high availability and scalability of the system, Westoby said, allows SGI to target the Altix ICE at three specific verticals within the enterprise market. These include federal and state governments, large industrial manufacturers, and academic research and scientific facilities.
Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata, said SGIs move to x86 architecture is a sign of the times and the changing atmosphere of supercomputing itself.
As for the architecture [x86 vs. Itanium], I see this as reflective of market volumes," Haff wrote in an e-mail to eWEEK. "Furthermore, theyve partnered with Intel on the motherboard. I dont see this as any sort of religious issue, but rather a determination that there was more money to be made from a blade form factor product if it used the x86 architecture rather than Itanium."
When fully configured in a 42U (73.5-inch) rack, the Altix ICE 8200 system, which SGI developed under the code name "Carlsbad," offers 64 individual blades—16 of these blades fit into one 10U (17.5-inch) chassis—with a combined 128 sockets. When coupled with Intels quad-core Xeon processor, the system supports 512 processing cores and 6 teraflops, or 6 trillion calculations per second, of performance.
To increase the systems throughput and I/O bandwidth, SGI uses a 1 Gigabit Ethernet network card for administrative tasks with the Altix ICE and two, DDR (double data rate) 4X InfiniBand fabrics to enable better communication between the nodes and the rack. The Atoka motherboard does not use a standard PCI Express slot, which allows for the InfiniBand connection to plug directly into the board.
"This allows the individual blades to connect to the backplane, which improves the reliability of the system, and also allows for breakthroughs in reliable power, cooling, redundancy and high availability," Westoby said.
The blades are also engineered with hot-swappable cooling and power components, which adds an additional layer of redundancy.
In addition, Westoby said the new blade platform offers what she calls "diskless" architecture, which allows the system to store the data with a companys SAN (storage area network), for example. By removing the hard disk drives, Westoby said the new system cuts down on the number of moving parts, which reduces power consumption and cooling costs.
While not standard with the Altix ICE 8200, SGI is offering its water-cooled door design to help reduce heat within the system. Each rack unit has a hinged door that can carry away as much as 95 percent of the heat generated in the individual chassis, Westoby said.
The new system is bundled with SGIs own management software suite and Novells SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 operating system.
SGI will display the Altix ICE 8200 at the start of the supercomputer conference on June 26, but the system will not go on sale until late July. The starting price, not including the optional water cooling system, for a system with 512 Xeon processing cores is about $350,000, according to SGI.