SGI Launches Initiative To Improve Linux Visualization

Silicon Graphics this week launched an initiative that will bring the company’s graphics technology to computers running Linux. The initiative consists of two elements: SGI’s collaboration with various open-source graphics projects, including Chromium, and SGI’s release of a tool kit for developers.

SGI hopes this new initiative will answer the need for a commercial Linux visualization system on par with high-end Unix systems. Developers who have been working in Linux-centric technical markets, such as bioinformatics and university research, now will have access to SGI’s scalable technologies through this program.

The SGI Visualization Developer Tool Kit for Linux, available now as the main offering so far in this initiative, includes a full suite of tools and technologies designed to accelerate the pace of innovation for visualization on Linux. At the center of the kit is a scalable, multi-CPU, multi-GPU SGI visualization system for Linux built around SGI’s NUMAflex shared-memory architecture.

Compared with typical clustered systems, in which code is broken up over multiple nodes, the NUMAflex architecture is designed to enhance speed by storing all code in a single shared-memory system. The tool kit also includes porting guides, APIs and SDKs.

Advanced Graphics for Complex Data

To date, visualization on Linux has been constrained by PC-class system performance. By moving into this field, SGI hopes to remove this limitation. The company’s scalable Linux visualization system is based on the Intel Itanium 2 processor. SGI hopes this will let developers support customers’ needs to visualize large data sets on the same Linux operating system on which the data is generated.

“Silicon Graphics sees the convergence of advanced visualization with Linux on Intel Itanium 2 as a powerful, strategic trend,” said Paul McNamara, senior vice president and general manager in the visual systems group at SGI. “The Developer Tool Kit that we are announcing today is a resource for application developers and will help accelerate the development of advanced graphics capabilities for large, complex data sets in Linux.”

Furthermore, said McNamara, SGI’s support of the open-source Chromium Project, and the contributions of code that SGI will be making to this project, “demonstrates SGI’s commitment to the open-source movement.” The Chromium Project began more than a decade ago as a Stanford University project for development on Linux clusters. It has evolved into a collection of initiatives to enhance the performance of visualization systems for Linux.

Contribution to Open Source

SGI’s contributions to the Chromium project will focus on pushing graphics on Linux to higher levels of performance. SGI also will take an active role in key projects that establish the high-performance underpinnings of future scalable visualization technologies.

“We’re excited to be increasing our activity in the Linux community,” said Kevin McLaughlin, vice president of engineering in the visual systems group at SGI. “We have been involved in key projects in the past — such as DMX for scalable windowing systems — and are looking forward to delivering our new developer kit and expanding our role into more open-source projects.”

“Silicon Graphics has long been known for its excellence in computer graphics and high-performance computing,” said Jon Hall, president and executive director of Linux International. “To see them combine these and bring that power to the Linux community is very exciting.”

Silicon Graphics has been a long-time contributor to the Linux community. Over the past five years, SGI has offered many key graphics technologies to the open-source community, including Open Inventor, a visualization scene graph, an OpenGL sample implementation and the key components for the OpenML standard. In addition, SGI has provided many server and system technologies to the Linux community for high-performance computing and storage, such as the XFS journaled file system.

Porting from a Single GPU or CPU

The Developer Tool Kit for Linux also includes a developer’s guide for porting up from single-GPU or single-CPU PCs to the new scalable environment and for porting advanced code on the Silicon Graphics Onyx4 workstations to the new Linux 64-bit environment. Other tools include tips on optimization, code examples for advanced techniques, open-source project pointers and access to the full complement of Silicon Graphics software tools, such as OpenGL Performer, OpenGL Volumizer and OpenGL Vizserver.

“We have seen a strong customer demand for scalable visualization using Itanium 2 and Linux,” said Steve Lutz, vice president for sales and marketing at TGS. “We’re excited by the scalability we’ve seen when running Open Inventor and Amira on an early access system.”

SGI’s drive to enhance Linux visualization seems to be a natural outgrowth of the company’s position in delivering high-performance Linux systems. With its Altix product line, SGI offers one of the most powerful Itanium 2-based systems running on Linux. The Altix family also includes a departmental server product line for midrange technical computing.

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