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SGI moving to mysterious Altism line

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SGI has picked an obvious strategy for a company struggling to stay alive. Frustrate its customers with complete confusion.

Any dolt could understand last week's proposals to cut 12 per cent of SGI's, shuffle a few executives and keep working on bringing costs down. Less clear, however, was SGI's decision to "consolidate its compute server and visualization platform" and to "pursue new markets in the enterprise space." That's because SGI didn't back up these vague statements with any firm details.

We turned to SGI four times over the past week, asking for specific information. What will happen to the Altix and Prism brands? Will SGI look beyond Linux on Itanium to help its new business computing push? Will SGI do any graphics and visualization customization at all?

SGI declined to answer a single one of these questions.

Thankfully, we happen to know a couple of SGI's largest customers - the kind of folks who actually receive information from the graphics beast. In order to help out the rest of you poor, informationless sods, we're going to don SGI's marketing cap for the moment and get out the good word to customers large and small. Here's where SGI is heading according to the insiders.

The big theme stretching over SGI's product reorganization revolves around the ever blurring line between high performance and business computing.

More and more companies desire large, complex systems. The days when the military, researchers and the oil and gas crowd bought all the big systems have come to a close. Myriad large companies can now afford powerful systems and are looking to use this horsepower to boost their business.

So, SGI figured it might as well adjust its product formula to remove a bit of specialization and replace it with a large helping of general purpose computing. This gives SGI a better chance at cracking into accounts running large databases and business software.

On a product level, it looks like this shift means the end of the road for Origin, but then we already saw that coming. More specifically, SGI appears set to stop designing and manufacturing the VPro graphics cards.

In addition, the Origin and Prisim brands will likely merge in a bizarre way. "SGI, when selling their systems, tells people to think of Prisms as Altix machines with graphics cards," said one source. "This is, currently, a marketing notion only, though, since the two lines are pretty incompatible. What SGI is going to do, though, is merge the Altix and Prism *technologies* and produce a single platform. All machines will be Altixes. Those with graphics cards will be *called* Prisms."

SGI is also doing everything it can to improve relations with Oracle. If you have a large cluster and are willing to run Oracle RAC, then SGI will likely lend a helping hand.

Another major attack point for SGI centers around exacting promises from Intel.

A quirk in SGI's NumaFlex shared memory system would have prohibited customers from being able to slot Intel's upcoming dual-core Montecito version of Itanic into existing Madison-based Prism systems. SGI had been expecting to wait for a second rev of Montecito to solve the issue.

Now, Intel has promised to have the Montecito chip working in Prism systems right out of the gate. In addition, Intel has vowed to deliver large volumes of the 1.6GHz versions of Montectio with 9MB of L3 cache in September, one source said. It's not quite clear whether Intel has helped to fix the Montecito problem or if SGI's Altix and Prisim machinations have taken care of the problem on their own.

Will SGI give up on all this Itanic madness and go - dare we say it - for Power or even Opteron? Not bloody likely, said one source.

While a move to Power or Opteron would be painful, we can't see SGI having a future on the Itanic. It looks determined to give Intel's sweaty 64-bit beast another go.

We'd love to provide you with more concrete details about SGI's future, but the company refuses to talk. Quite frankly, we're not sure SGI and its new CEO have a solidified plan for where they hope to take the company. It's all, "Issue vague statments, so it looks like we're doing something" for the moment.

Moving to address a broader market was something SGI should have done years ago.

That said, the company was historically willing to do the little things necessary to keep the government handouts arriving every quarter. It did the dirty work that IBM, HP, Dell and Sun often reject. Moving toward more general purpose machines will cut off some of these past deals while putting SGI in direct competition with much larger, more complete vendors.

At best, SGI can hope to become attractive enough for HP. ®

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