Today, SGI is a niche company and sells much of its hardware, software and services to the U.S. and foreign governments for projects it cannot talk about. It has been surmised that SGI sells high-end graphics and simulations programs to the CIA, for example, and the company does not confirm or deny that claim.
As an example of what its workstations can do, SGI shows a demonstration to potential customers that starts by showing the planet Earth from space on a 30-wide-wide, curved screen. In it, the "camera" starts heading steadily down—through the atmosphere toward North America, to the United States, to California, to the Bay Area, to the city of Alameda, to a shipyard, to an aircraft carrier—and finally to cars and people on the flight deck.
This is all seen in what appears to be a seamless, continuous camera shot. "Terabytes of information were used to create this one demo," Estes said. "No normal computer has near the capacity to run something like this."
Its not difficult to see why the military analysts would be interested in something like that.
Another section of the demo was a 3-D presentation of human DNA, which illustrated in great detail how diseased cells attach themselves to it in the early stages of cancer. Scientists can use these graphic representations to view disease at a microscopic level in order to find a way to attack the growth from literally all sides of the problem.
In addition, SGIs high-end graphics solutions are marketed to municipal governments and civil planning agencies. Another part of the demo showed a virtual tour of downtown Los Angeles, near Staples Center and the Convention Center. The "camera" appeared to be floating down a major thoroughfare, showing the city in great detail—sans cars and people. New buildings and trees and other landmarks then are popped into place, replacing empty lots, to show what an urban planner might do to help his or her clients visualize a new layout.
"Companies come to us to solve all kinds of unusual problems," Estes said. "For one example, how do you think Pringles potato chips get into that cylindrical can without being broken up? The value proposition here is that all the chips are exactly the same size and they are all intact.
"If you stack them up and drop them into the tube, the ones at the bottom will get smashed. We were asked how to figure the exact wind velocity on each chip as it is flown into a tube and flutters down into place without being cracked.
"Those are the kind of things we are often asked to do here at SGI. There are lots of other ones I could tell you about but cant for one reason or another," Estes said.
Therein lies SGIs major challenge: how to continue to sell its expensive, high-quality products and services into extremely narrow vertical markets.
"Can we continue to compete successfully in that area as a niche player? Definitely yes. Our customer base and income is solid. But we just need to continue to get our costs down to where we can get back into the black. And Im confident our road map will take us there," Estes said.
The company is continuing to find ways to lower production costs and has finalized a refinance plan that goes into effect soon, Estes said.
Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on servers, switches and networking protocols for the enterprise and small businesses.