Supercomputing and Visualization: SGI Moves Forward

Silicon Graphics recently completed the third quarter of its fiscal year 2004 with what the company says is “continued momentum” for its products introduced throughout the past year: the SGI Altix family of servers, SGI InfiniteStorage products, Silicon Graphics Onyx4 UltimateVision systems and Silicon Graphics Tezro visual workstations.

Clearly, the company has been approaching the industry with renewed vigor, making strong appearances at LinuxWorld in New York City, and, more recently, Storage Networking World in Phoenix, Arizona, and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) conference in Las Vegas. According to the company, its key sales wins over the past several months have been in its five target markets: government, sciences, manufacturing, energy and media.

Also, according to SGI execs, the third quarter marked significant momentum for SGI Altix systems in the marketplace as the company made progress in converting its core product lines to the Linux OS. Since their introduction a year ago, sold Altix systems have included a total of more than 13,000 Intel Itanium 2 processors distributed to more than 215 customers worldwide.

Technology Highlights

Highlights of the recent quarter include SGI’s extension of the Altix line with the launch of the SGI Altix 350, a smaller, lower-priced system targeted toward the midrange of the technical marketplace.

The company has expanded its developer program to include Linux system developers to complement the launch of the Altix line, and it has introduced SGI InfiniteStorage Data Lifecycle Management Server, a relatively low-cost technology designed to ensure data availability without the complexity of traditional archiving approaches.

With the addition of the Altix 350 system, SGI now has a family of servers based on standard Linux that spans the spectrum from departmental systems starting at less than US$15,000 up to what the company is calling “the largest and most powerful Linux OS-based server on the marketplace” — the 256-processor Altix 3000.

Sales Successes for the Quarter

In the announcement to the press today, SGI was quick to point out several key sales in its target markets. For example, Grupo Antolin, a company that designs components for the automobile industry, purchased a four-processor SGI Altix 350 system with 4 GB of RAM and 20 Silicon Graphics Fuel visual workstations. The systems will help Grupo Antolin engineers conduct computational fluid dynamics simulations for use in designing parts and systems for automobile interiors.

“Beating out IBM and AMD products, the Altix and Silicon Graphics Fuel systems were selected for their price-performance advantage and their ability to interoperate with Linux and heterogeneous computing environments,” the company said.

Meantime, automotive design firm Bertrandt SA purchased an SGI Altix 350 system with four processors and 16 GB of memory to use in computational fluid dynamics studies. A supplier of automotive prototypes to more than a dozen of the world’s car manufacturers and system suppliers, Bertrandt cited the Altix system’s 64-bit Linux support and scalability as reasons for its selection over PC clusters.

Universities and research centers were also hotspots for SGI sales. After seeking out a 64-bit Linux system for research in computational fluid dynamics, the University of Wales at Aberystwyth purchased a 40-processor SGI Altix system with 80 GB of memory. The large Altix system is integrated via a storage area network (SAN) with a 5-terabyte SGI InfiniteStorage TP9300 Fibre Channel disk array that uses a separate Altix 350 system as a metadata server.

Aberystwyth also purchased another four-processor, 8-GB Altix 350 system for use as a development server. In kicking off its relationship with SGI, the university chose the Altix and SGI InfiniteStorage systems for “SGI’s ability to provide a fully integrated Linux solution.”

Other Universities Get into SGI

In its effort to acquire a supercomputing-class, shared-memory computing system, the University of Minnesota Supercomputing Institute purchased eight 16-processor Altix 350 midrange systems, each with 32 GB of memory. The Altix 350 systems will form a cluster via the Voltaire InfiniBand Clustering technology.

Running a slate of supercomputing applications, the Altix systems will be integrated via a SAN and SGI InfiniteStorage Shared Filesystem CXFS. The SAN will integrate the Altix cluster with 3 terabytes of storage located on a previously installed SGI InfiniteStorage TP9400 storage array. The new 128-processor Altix 350 cluster will add significant computing power to the Supercomputing Institute’s existing Altix 3000 systems.

Meanwhile, researchers in the Geophysics Group of Utrecht University in The Netherlands have turned to an SGI Altix 350 system to conduct studies such as simulating the tectonic movement of subterranean rock to pinpoint the cause of devastating Mediterranean earthquakes and even ancient floods. The eight-processor system has 32 GB of memory and 146 GB of local disk space.

After benchmark evaluations against competing systems, Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, selected a 32-processor SGI Altix system with 64 GB of memory in addition to a 16-processor SGI Altix 350 midrange server with 16 GB of memory and two SGI InfiniteStorage TP900 SCSI storage systems with a combined storage capacity of 1.6 terabytes.

Duquesne’s Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry will deploy the systems to complete biophysical chemistry studies that otherwise would require shared time at national supercomputing centers. In addition to the system’s performance, “SGI’s expertise in computational chemistry and scientific research” led Duquesne to select the SGI Altix and InfiniteStorage products.

SGI in Broadcast and Post-Production

Leading up to NAB in Las Vegas this past week, SGI posted several InfiniteStorage wins in the broadcast and post-production markets — a trend the company hopes will continue. Previously known for the visual effects systems it has supplied to Hollywood, SGI is now becoming known for providing digital infrastructures and storage systems to broadcasters and post-production facilities.

Examples of inroads SGI has made in this market include its deal with Crawford Communications, which purchased two fully redundant SGI Origin 350 servers with SGI InfiniteStorage Shared Filesystem CXFS and 4 terabytes of SGI InfiniteStorage TP9500 for its SAN infrastructure for satellite operations.

Crawford provides satellite and post-production services to 34 cable TV networks as well as disaster recovery and an international uplink at its headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. The SGI InfiniteStorage infrastructure will be used to stage content.

In addition to Crawford, BBC Broadcast, with more than 1,000 employees providing services for 37 public service and commercial television channels, 39 local radio stations and BBCi, the BBC’s Web site, will use SGI InfiniteStorage NAS 3000 and Shared Filesystem CXFS as the foundation of a tapeless environment for almost all of its processes.

Linux and Visualization Initiatives

In its continuing transition to Linux, SGI ported its storage software to the Linux OS in the third quarter. And in January of this year, SGI announced a Linux visualization initiative. The initiative encompasses porting graphics applications and tools to Linux, collaborating with the open-source community on graphics code and introducing a development system that runs on Linux so independent software vendors can begin the process of developing visualization code.

In the announcement today to support its increased moves into the visualization markets, SGI pointed out that Spain’s Polytechnic University of Valencia has purchased a Silicon Graphics Onyx4 UltimateVision system to do advanced imaging. The Onyx4 system will be available to all the researchers at the university, either remotely with OpenGL Vizserver computing or on-site running their applications in the I-Space.

Meanwhile, ENEA, the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and the Environment, purchased a Silicon Graphics Onyx4. The system is scheduled to be installed next month at ENEA’s southern location, and it will be added to the already-installed Onyx2 and Onyx 3200 at their northern locations to provide visualization capabilities to users across the network.

The simulation code can run on different architectures, but visualization of the results is done solely with SGI’s Onyx family.

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