SGI Continues Push into HPC, but Without Itanium

Two months after Rackable Systems closed the deal to buy the old SGI, officials with the new SGI are touting a product road map that shows a future not only for Rackable servers, but also for the legacy SGI hardware. SGI officials also are saying both Rackable hardware and legacy SGI hardware are attractive to the HPC space. However, the next-generation high-end Altix system, code-named Ultraviolet, will be powered not by Itanium processors but by Intel's upcoming processors code-named Nehalem EX.

When Rackable Systems closed its $42.5 million acquisition of Silicon Graphics Inc. in May, officials touted the new company as one that could play a significant role not only in the data center, but also in the supercomputing space.

Two months later, officials with the new SGI-now Silicon Graphics International-say the integration of the two businesses is on schedule and they already are seeing the benefits of merging Rackable's data center-focused systems-designed for the Internet and cloud computing space-with the old SGI's HPC (high-performance computing) expertise.

However, while SGI is going to continue that push into the HPC space, it is going to do so without Intel's high-end Itanium chip. "Ultraviolet," the next generation of the high-end SGI Altix servers-a holdover from the old SGI and a key player in the new company's HPC push-will be powered by Intel's upcoming "Nehalem EX" processors rather than the Itanium chip, which the current Altix 4700 systems run on, Geoff Noer, senior director of product marketing at SGI, said in an interview.

Intel already has released the Xeon 5500 Series or Nehalem EP chips for servers with two sockets. The Nehalem eight-core EX chips, for servers with four sockets, are expected to appear in servers in the first part of 2010.

The chip maker has been hampered by delays in the release of the next-generation Itanium chip, code-named Tukwila, and some analysts believe that the chip will continued to be squeezed into smaller and more niche spaces, thanks to advances Intel has made with its Xeon processors.

Tukwila is now due out in early 2010.

SGI will continue to sell the Itanium-based Altix 4700 line of systems, but will move forward with the Nehalem EX chips for future designs.

Noer said SGI officials are touting the ways that Rackable's product line dovetails with legacy SGI offerings to give HPC environments a healthy list of options.

The Rackable name has been assigned to the new company's line of scale-out x86 servers-including rack systems and blade servers-and the legacy Altix ICE HPC blade platform has moved under the Rackable label. The Altix line remains under the SGI label in the scale-up category of systems, Noer said.

The CloudRack C2 system is an example of how the two companies mesh. The blade system, which Rackable launched in the first quarter of 2009, has qualities-including high-speed interconnects-that are usable in both enterprise data centers and HPC environments, Noer said. "This is an area of cross-pollination with the legacy SGI side," he said.

In June, SGI announced new x86 Rackable servers that support both on-board InfiniBand connectivity and 10 Gigabit Ethernet, a move aimed at the HPC space, officials said.

The energy-efficient nature of the Rackable servers will bleed over into the legacy SGI systems, Noer said. "That's a value to the high-performance computing market as well," he said.

The decision to go with Nehalem EX chips for Ultraviolet rather than Itanium is a part of the power-efficiency story, he said, calling it "a major step forward."

In addition, SGI is getting interest from HPC environments in its ICE Cube containerized data center, Noer said. The interest ranges from customers that want to expand their data center capacity, but don't want to wait to build onto their facilities, to businesses that need temporary capacity increases.

Noer said the integration within the company has gone well, and customers, particularly legacy customers of SGI, are responding positively.

"One of [the legacy] SGI's largest challenges was its financial situation," he said, alluding to the struggles the former Silicon Valley giant went through during the past decade.

Now that the financial instability is past-and as the new SGI shows off its product road map-customers are gaining confidence, he said.