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SGI finds 2,048 uses for an Itanic

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If anyone can find a use for an Itanium chip, it ought to be SGI. Although the processor remains stillborn as a commercial computing proposition, the benchmarks are impressive and improving, and SGI's technical computing customers typically need a much smaller working set of software to get their work done.

Still, it's interesting that SGI should introduce a global shared memory system based on Itanic, running Linux (and Linux only). The Altix 3000 series are single system image boxes based on SGI's C-brick where each node has access to all the memory across an interconnect that has much lower (50 ns) latencies, SGI's Greg Estes told us. In the flagship 3700 "supercluster" each node can host up to 64 1Ghz Itanics, up to a maximum of 512. Estes said this will double each year, with 2048 node Altices planned for 2005. There's also a single node "entry level" model 3300, which will host up to 12 CPUs, for around $70,000.

"The Origin is a modular design based on the C-bricks, and the Origin 3000 was designed with both MIPS and Itanium in mind," said Estes.

The systems are targeted with the life sciences market in mind and SGI insists that less configuration, and less-DIY assembly is required than with white box PC clusters. The Altix allows CPUs to be dynamically allocated to different tasks.

"If you want to calculate large prime numbers you can download the software from the Internet and do it now on your PC. But life science codes can use the larger address space and better floating point performance."

Although IBM, who SGI sees as the main competitor in the market, has built large clusters, only SGI can share memory across all the nodes. SGI issued figures comparing the new system from IBM and HP. But not Sun?

"We only included serious competitors in technical computing," said Estes.

Miaow. ®

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