SGI plugs in Windows for compute clusters

Supercomputing specialist focused on Linux agrees to support Microsoft's OS for lower-end server clusters.

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Stephen Shankland
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Supercomputing specialist SGI has become Microsoft's latest partner, signing up to support a version of Windows that can farm out computing jobs to a cluster of lower-end servers.

SGI previously had focused chiefly on the open-source Linux operating system, which dominates the market for computing clusters. But now the company will sell Microsoft's Compute Cluster Server version of Windows as well, the partners plan to announce Thursday.

The move is part of SGI's attempt to attract smaller businesses as customers, part of an expansion plan announced in the company's 2005 effort to recover from bankruptcy protection. Like rivals IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Sun Microsystems, it believes high-performance computing is suited not just to large research establishments but also to smaller entities. These include small companies that need to find useful information in business records, or the departments of larger enterprises.

"Last spring, we started down the path of seeking to make high-performance computing more broadly applicable," said Dave Parry, SGI's senior vice president and product general manager.

Running computing clusters is complicated, but Microsoft wants to bring it within range of mere mortals--or at least to make it "easy to deploy by a large number of Windows IT administrators," said Kyril Faenov, general manager of high-performance computing at the Redmond, Wash., company. It hopes that doing so will mean smaller departments will be able to use the technology.

The terms of the deal weren't announced. Microsoft already has compute cluster deals with HP, IBM, Dell and a number of smaller companies, Faenov said.

SGI, after scrapping its MIPS processor family and Irix operating system, has largely moved its product line to Intel's Itanium processor and Linux. But last year, it announced plans for Intel Xeon-based clusters as well.

The compute cluster version of Windows runs only on x86 systems such as Xeon-based machines, and on Monday, SGI introduced a new model in that line, the XE310 server. It uses Supermicro's small motherboard, which lets two dual-processor machines fit into a 1.75-inch-thick chassis. The XE310 also accommodates Intel's quad-core Xeon 5300 "Clovertown" processor.

The XE310 systems can be purchased individually for a starting price of $3,100, or in a preconfigured cluster called the XE1300. The new products are due to ship in March, SGI said.