SGI Sculpts Linux Server

SGI will roll out its Altix 350, a Linux-based server for the midrange space.

Silicon Graphics Inc. is the latest systems maker to use Linux as a vehicle into new corners of the enterprise.

The Mountain View, Calif., company this week will roll out the Altix 350, a Linux-based server targeted at the midrange, high-performance technical computing space, a segment of the industry SGI officials said generates about $2.6 billion annually.

Like the larger Altix 3000 systems, the 350 is powered by Intel Corp.s 64-bit Itanium 2 processors and can run SGIs optimized Linux operating system, SGI Advanced Linux Environment 2.1, or SuSE Linux AGs Enterprise Server 8, according to SGI officials.

The 350, which scales from one to 16 processors, retains shared memory and SGIs NUMAflex technology to increase the scalability of the systems and the SGI ProPack software suite, which includes tools and libraries. The Altix 3000 can run up to 128 processors.

Jose Sanchez-Marin, a professor of physical chemistry at the Molecular Sciences Institute at the University of Valencia, in Spain, said the shared-memory feature of SGIs Altix line is attractive to researchers who need enough power to run applications and calculations but cant always access high-end computers.

At its Laboratory of Theoretical Chemistry, the university runs a number of computer systems, including PC arrays and servers from SGI and IBM, among others, Sanchez-Marin said.

"One group or laboratory installation cannot compete in power and facilities with the large arrays of computers that are currently accessible at [national computer centers] or equivalent installations supporting hundreds to thousands of processors," Sanchez-Marin said. "These large-range installations can be used for the most demanding computations. However, good-quality science can be performed nowadays in smaller computers."

Thats because the power of the new processors, the mass storage capabilities and the shared-memory systems allow for performing high-quality calculations of molecular properties, Sanchez-Marin said.

SGI is not alone. Other top-tier systems makers are also pushing ahead with Linux initiatives, giving customers the choice of using the open-source platform. IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., runs Linux in both its Intel-based xSeries servers and Power-based pSeries and midrange iSeries systems. Hewlett-Packard Co., of Palo Alto, Calif., offers Linux support in its Intel-based Integrity and ProLiant lines, and officials with Sun Microsystems Inc., of Santa Clara, Calif., are looking to drive Linux into the midrange as part of their recent alliance with chip maker Advanced Micro Devices Inc.

Peter ffoulkes, a spokesman for Suns high-performance technical computing unit, said Sun this quarter will roll out two- and four-way systems running Linux and powered by AMDs 64-bit Opteron chips and will later add eight-way systems. In addition, as part of the partnership, Sun and AMD are working on the chips coherent HyperTransport capabilities to eventually enable it to run in systems larger than eight processors, ffoulkes said. The key is to improve the communication among the processors so that they operate cohesively and dont compete with one another inside large symmetric multiprocessing systems, he said.