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SGI renews Itanium super love (sort of)

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For a company that has been trying to bolster its position in the supercomputing market for the past several years, Silicon Graphics has been pretty vague about its commitment to future Itanium processors for Intel.

Lucky for the SGI - which is now Rackable Systems with some SGI legacy products and customers - Intel keeps delaying the delivery of the quad-core "Tukwila" Itanium chips, so it never has to come clean and say it will or will not use the processors in future shared-memory supercomputers.

Actually, SGI really does have to do that. But it seems incapable of saying either yes or no to Tukwila, even as it espouses its "commitment" to Itanium as it is building its next-generation "UltraViolet" NUMAlink shared memory supercomputers in the Altix family on Intel's forthcoming "Nehalem EX" or (sometimes called "Beckton") processors.

In the wake of the acquisition of SGI's assets by Rackable on April 1 (at a price that eventually came in at $$2.5m), Rackable Systems - which had only about 300 of its own customers compared to 4,500 for SGI - took the SGI name and set to work rationalizing the two company's product lines. Now that work is done, and SGI is ready to talk a little bit about its plans for the future. Including sales of Rackable's rack servers by its channel partners, SGI now reckons it has over 6,000 customers worldwide and has over 1,300 employees chasing hyperscale and HPC server business.

After the merger and reorganization, SGI has four different product lines, which are basically the same ones it had before. The various lines of rack-based servers are now being given the Rackable brand name, with the Altix XE x64-based rack servers being merged into Rackable's existing 1U, 2U, 3U, and 4U rack half-depth, rack-based servers. The CloudRack C2 cookie sheet servers stay as they were, and so does the Altix ICE 8200 blade-style servers with on-board dual-data rate (20 Gbit/sec) InfiniBand interconnects that were created by the original SGI.

These Altix ICE servers already had support for Intel's quad-core "Nehalem EP" processors for two-socket servers prior to the merger of the lines and remain unchanged for the moment. And finally, there are the Altix 4700 series of machines, which use the NUMAlink clustering technology built by SGI to create a shared-memory supercomputer that can bring 512 dual-core Itanium processors and 100 TB of main memory to bear on big Linux workloads.

Rackable's OmniStore storage line is now merged into SGI's InfiniteStorage arrays. Rounding out the offering is another product with the ICE brand: the ICE Cube containerized data center, which Rackable was pushing along with Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and Sun Microsystems with limited success.

Geoffrey Noer, senior director of product marketing at the new SGI, dodged the direct questions about what SGI would do with regard to the forthcoming Tukwila chips, which are now expected in 2010, several months after the eight-core Nehalem EX processors that share the QuickPath Interconnect (QPI) architecture that made its debut in March with the Nehalem EPs.

Both the Tukwila Itanium and Nehalem EX Xeon processors are designed from the get-go to work in machines that have more than two sockets (although you can use Tukwilas in two-socket servers if you want) and are therefore appropriate for the kickers to the current Altix 4700 shared memory systems. It is not a question of technology, but of what SGI is actually going to do.

"Moving forward, we are looking at ways to cross-pollinate technologies, and we are becoming one company much faster than we anticipated," explains Noer. But when you bring up the Altix 4700 line and the UltraViolet kickers, Noer, like other old SGI executives for the past year, starts hemming and hawing.

"UltraVoilet is Nehalem EX-based, and more details will be available later this year," Noer said. "We're definitely redoubling our effort on this product."

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