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SGI pitches monster Linux on Itanium box

Altix goes blades

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SC05 Struggling SGI won't back down from its Linux on Itanium charge. In fact, SGI next year will release the Altix 4000 – a monster of a machine that uses new blade server components and supports up 128TB of memory.

The Altix 4000 will start shipping in the first quarter of 2006 and support both Intel's current "Madison" Itanic chip and the upcoming dual-core "Montecito." The box will also run standard versions of Red Hat and Novell SuSE Linux along with SGI's Reconfigurable Application Specific Computing (RASC) technology.

Unlike the Altix 3000 that used clunky "brick" servers, the Altix 4000 will be packed with sleek blades. This gives customer a bit more flexibility as they can mix and match blades packed full of processors, or ones that contain only memory and networking components. SGI also has a compute-heavy blade available that mixes both CPUs and memory. A datasheet with all the Altix 4000 specifications is available in PDF format here.

The new system will hold 512 processors, just like its predecessor, but will support the 128TB of memory, up from 24TB with the Altix 3000.

Without question, SGI's focus on bringing Linux to the highest-end systems has been appreciated by the industry. Its reliance on Itanium, however, has proved less rewarding.

Back when SGI pitched Irix on MIPS, it was burned just by the idea of Itanic. Customers questioned how SGI could compete against this super chip from Intel and HP and stalled their purchases of SGI gear. That was the first burn.

Then SGI actually moved to Itanic and saw the chip struggle to gain a foothold in the server market. Intel still has not shipped a dual-core Itanium, while competitors busy away on their second, third and fourth generation dual-core parts. In addition, HP stands as the clear Itanium server leader, making SGI look like an also ran tied to a rival's architecture. Industry standard? Hardly.

The slow sales of Itanium-based gear have left SGI in financial turmoil. It now trades on the pink sheets and has a market cap far less than relative newcomer Rackable Systems.

Customers aren't likely to flock to the Altix 4000 until the dual-core Montecito ships arrived in the middle of next year. That's a long time to wait for a troubled concern. ®

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