SGI Taps Enterprise with New Blade

Arthur Cole

Enterprise managers may have their share of headaches when it comes to kitting out their latest expansion plans, but at least there is an ever-widening selection of blades to keep competing vendors on their toes.


The latest entrant is HPC specialist SGI, which this week took the covers off the Altix ICE platform said to bring high-performance computing operations to enterprises demanding less power consumption and heat generation. The flagship of the line is the ICE 8200, which can sport up to 512 Xeon cores delivering more than 6 Tflops of performance.


A key component of the ICE family is the Atoka motherboard, co-developed by Intel to hold either dual- or quad-core Xeons. While SGI outfits most of its high-end systems with Itaniums, the x86 Xeon offers a lower-cost solution that still supports up to 32 GB of RAM, which the company hopes will appeal to customer-facing operations.


Also of interest is the diskless blade architecture designed to foster "off-blade" storage centralization. While this lowers the cost of the blade, it requires a separate storage system such as the SGI InfiniteStorage solution or any other system suitable to the overall network environment.


On the back end, the system is all Infiniband. A pair of 20 Gbps IB links sit on each blade card, with IB target and switch chips from Mellanox Technologies rounding out the system. Going all-IB is a gamble for a strategy aimed at reaching further into the enterprise community, which has sided heavily with Gigabit Ethernet solutions. At the moment, it's not clear whether enterprises will be willing to pay a premium for IB, even if it does offer faster throughput.


SGI's move into the enterprise comes at a time when IBM and others are encroaching on the company's traditional HPC base. IBM is in the running to install its System p5 at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. The center is home to the Columbia cluster, a collection of Linux-based Altix servers powered by more than 10,000 Itanium 2s said to peak at more than 61 Tflops. Cray, Sun and HP are also said to be angling for a piece of the action.


With lower-cost processing solutions at peak demand, the timing is probably right for high-end vendors like SGI to break into the wider market. But there's certainly no shortage of established firms already in the field, and they have lengthy customer relationships and supply lines in place to make it tough going for newcomers.

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