SGI Launches Smaller Scale Origin Server

SGI has launched a graphics-oriented server that extends the company's Origin family of servers toward a more departmental or workgroup type of user.

SGI has launched a graphics-oriented server that extends its Origin family of servers toward a more departmental or workgroup type of user, at a lower, entry-level price of $24,000.

SGI, formerly known as Silicon Graphics Inc., is a dominant supplier of servers for high-end, mechanical design, video streaming and satellite data collection purposes. The new Origin 300 is expected to serve as a little brother to the Origin 3200, 3400 and 3800 servers. At the top of the line, the Origin 3800 may be configured with up to 1,024 processors, though only one such machine exists - at the NASA Ames Space Flight Center. The newly introduced Origin 300 will come in two- to 32-processor configurations.

While an automotive manufacturer might use an Origin 3000 model to analyze the results of a crash test of a completed car design, the Origin 300 would be more likely to be used earlier in the vehicles design phase, when the focus is on fewer elements, said Addison Snell, product marketing manager of SGI servers.

"The [Origin] 300 will be serving the same customers, but down more at the departmental level. Were going to extend our dominance in that direction and boot out some of the HP [Hewlett-Packard] servers, which have been very successful in the midrange," Snell said.

The Origin 300 is a rack-mount server; a two- to four-processor model takes up two slots - or 3.5 inches - in a standard, 42-slot rack. The Origin line is powered by MIPS processors running at 500 megahertz, though customers will have to get down to the fine print of the announcement to find a reference to that speed. Competing servers from Sun Microsystems, such as the Sun Fire 15K, use UltraSparc III processors running at 900 MHz, and the recently announced IBM p690 eServer uses Power chips running at 1.1 gigahertz.

With its modular design, the Origin family has joint central processing unit and memory modules, or "bricks," that can be removed from the chassis and replaced with an upgrade. Origin 300 customers will be able to upgrade their CPUs in the first half of next year to 600-MHz MIPS processors, Snell said.

Processor speed is not the only element that is key to a graphics-oriented server, SGI representatives said. SGI builds broad bandwidth into its servers, for such processing needs as video-on-demand. The Origin 300 can move data from memory to the CPU at a sustained rate of 1.15 gigabytes per second and a peak rate of 2.4 GBps.

When combined with an SGI disk array, such as the Total Performance 900, two 32-processor Origin 300 servers can stream video at a combined rate of 1,800 movies, Snell said. He used the example of two maximum-processor servers because two may be grouped in a single vertical rack of a data center or ISP.

Snell said the Origin 300 is likely to find uses in education, industrial training, mechanical design, satellite data capture or steaming media applications.

Multiprocessor Origin servers are based on Nonuniform Memory Architectures. SGIs design, which the company calls NUMAflex, allows modular components to be added as customers seek to scale their systems upward. Unlike other multiprocessor servers, NUMAs distribute memory with CPUs, instead of pooling it in a main memory configuration. Each CPU memory has its own cache of frequently used data, and the operating system checks them often for changes, making sure any changes are rolled across the distributed memories. The practice, called "cache coherency," gives the system a total memory that appears equal to all the distributed memories added together, Snell said.

The $24,000 price tag applies to an Origin 300 with two CPUs and 512 MB of memory. A 32-CPU system with 32 GB of memory and 1 terabyte of storage is priced at $500,000. All versions are available immediately.