SGI Scales Linux to 256 Processors, Plans for 512

Silicon Graphics on Wednesday touted as a breakthrough and industry first its achievement of support for as many as 256 Intel Itanium 2 processors with a single instance of the Linux operating system.

In addition to immediate availability of its Advanced Linux Environment with ProPack 2.4 for Altix 3000 and Altix 350 customers, SGI said it will meet increasing demand for Altix systems by scaling Linux to 512-processor support in a single system image (SSI) by the end of this year.

“The Altix platform, now supporting up to 256 processors in a single system image, leverages the industry’s best system components to deliver precisely what scientists, researchers and technologists need to innovate faster: world-record performance,” said president and general manager of the SGI server and platform group Dave Parry.

Harvard Research Group vice president of Linux strategy Bill Claybrook told LinuxInsider that the achievement is significant, but the market for the high-performance computing (HPC) system may be a tough one given competition from less-expensive Linux clusters.

“From an engineering point of view, it’s significant to be able to do that and scale up to 256 processors,” Claybrook said. “The only question I have is, who the hell’s going to buy it?”

Pouring on Processors

SGI, which said the achievement of 256-processor support came out of a project initially targeting half of that scalability, claimed its Altix systems are surpassing the capabilities of competing systems from HP, IBM and Sun.

The Mountain View, California-based company said researchers and engineers in manufacturing, earth sciences, aerospace, life sciences, homeland security and oil and gas exploration will benefit from the SSI. Coupled with the company’s NUMAflex architecture, Altix systems configured with hundreds of processors and terabytes of shared memory can tackle problems on a “terascale level,” simplifying the programming environment, SGI said.

“Large-scale Altix systems enable HPC innovators to analyze data sets as whole entities, dramatically accelerating complex calculations,” the company said. “As a result, commercial customers can significantly reduce their time to market for new products, and researchers can trim their time to discovery.”

Linux Leaps

The scaled-up systems, which will build on work done with a 512-processor-capable Altix system used for global climate change and scientific research at NASA’s Ames Research Center, mark a continuing trend of Linux use in high-end computing.

Yankee Group senior analyst Dana Gardner referred to a philosophical change in approach toward high-performance computing that has favored clusters and the assemblage of cheaper components to achieve HPC capabilities, rather than the traditional use of more expensive supercomputers.

“Linux aligns well with this new general philosophy that has taken shape over the last 10 years,” Gardner told LinuxInsider.

If You Build It

Claybrook described SGI’s Altix systems and Advanced Linux Environment as being in the middle between high-performance, multiprocessor supercomputers and Linux clusters, which have a definite price advantage.

“It’s still more expensive than a Linux cluster,” he said. “Are they going to be able to price it to keep competitive with Linux clusters?”

While he called the support for 256 and 512 processors in a single instance of Linux a “wonderful achievement,” Claybrook said the market for the size of machine SGI is offering is limited, particularly because HPC applications are running on Linux clusters and management products have improved.

“Nobody seems to be trying to compete with SGI on this size machine,” he said. “Nobody seems to be going in this direction.”

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