SGI to show next-generation Linux machines

Switch from "brick" servers to blades is among the changes in the high-end Altix 4000, based on Linux and Intel's Itanium.

Silicon Graphics will start showing off the Altix 4000 Monday, the second generation of the company's technical computing machines based on the Linux operating system and Itanium processors.

The high-performance systems will accommodate as many as 512 processors, as does the current Altix 3000, said Jill Matzke, SGI's head of Altix product marketing. But a new design lets it accommodate as much as 128 terabytes of memory, larger than the 24 terabyte limit of the Altix 3000 and about 250,000 times as much memory as is found in a mainstream PC.

SGI plans to show the systems at the SC2005 supercomputing show in Seattle this week.

Previous Altix designs used "bricks," or block-shaped servers, each with up to eight processors and associated memory. The new design replaces these with blade servers, which are slimmer. But it keeps the modular system, Matzke said.

One new feature of the design: Customers can purchase blades that have nothing but memory, letting gargantuan amounts of data be kept readily on hand.

The new Altix line should go on sale in late February or early March, Matzke said. The machines will accommodate the current "Madison 9M" version of the Intel's Itanium processor as well as the chipmaker's delayed dual-core Montecito, due to arrive in mid-2006. SGI had planned to release the new Altix in 2005.

SGI once was a Silicon Valley computing power, but the company has struggled to reverse a years-long revenue slide. Because of stock price declines, the New York Stock Exchange delisted SGI's shares this month. It's a specialist in high-performance technical computing, but has come under competitive pressure from companies such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems and even Dell that sell machines that also can be sold to the much larger business market.

SGI, based in Mountain View, Calif., has made it most of the way through a transition from its own MIPS processors and the Irix operating system to Intel's Itanium and Linux. Previously, its machines required a separate SGI-enhanced version of Linux, but that version is being phased out now that Novell's Suse Linux includes support for SGI's high-end features, Matzke said.

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