SGI banks on Linux, Intel chips

The company plans to demonstrate a cluster of Linux computers running Intel's new Itanium processors.

LAS VEGAS--SGI will demonstrate a cluster of Linux computers running Intel's new Itanium processors, the company said today.

The company will demonstrate the machine at Supercomputing 99, a computer show in Portland, Oregon, the company said at Comdex here today.

Mountain View, California-based SGI, which sells servers and workstations, is in the midst of a years-long transition to the Itanium chips, formerly code-named Merced. Intel has built prototypes, but Itanium computer systems aren't expected until the second half of 2000.

Delays to the chip, however, forced SGI to extend its Mips chip family, former SGI chief executive Rick Belluzzo said in an earlier interview.

In addition to moving from Mips chips to Intel chips, SGI is moving from the Irix operating system to Linux. The company wants Linux to run on systems with hundreds of processors, and SGI is contributing effort to the multicompany Trillian project to achieve that goal.

The technology transitions at SGI raise the possibility that a government-funded supercomputer could run the Linux operating system.

SGI is moving to Intel chips so it can take advantage of the lower prices for chips made in larger quantities. Hewlett-Packard, which invented the architecture for the Itanium chip, is embarking on a similar plan and joined Intel to make those high-volume sales possible.

While SGI is moving ahead with Itanium-based systems, it's also spinning off its Cray Research supercomputer division. However, the prospects for Cray are in question.

VA Linux Systems also is working on connecting lots of Linux computers. The company, which has filed to go public in coming weeks, announced a machine at Argonne National Laboratory with 256 two-processor machines.

The machine, called "Chiba City," will be available to many researchers testing open-source software such as managing clusters of computers, visualizing scientific information and distributing computing jobs over many machines. The computers are tied together with the "Beowulf" method. Chiba City is a futuristic city in William Gibson's science fiction novel "Neuromancer," the book in which Gibson coined the term "cyberspace."

Fifty Argonne researchers built the machine in two days at a "barn-raising," complete with a banjo, VA said in a statement.

Chiba City also uses IBM servers to manage the system

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