Too little, too late – Tukwila Itanium is released

Silicon Graphics News
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Intel have announced that the massively delayed Tukwila Itanium processor is now available. HP is crowing about the performance advantages, but it’s not like they have much of a choice. Interestingly though, there have been no Altix related announcements from SGI.

The delays in Tukwila have hurt SGI’s NUMA sales, and the new Altix UV gives much better price/performance than Itanium could ever deliver. I predicted (Project Ultraviolet and the future of Itanium Altix) that we’d see a final Itanium Altix using Tukwila later this year, before the Itanium line was killed off.

With no product announcement from SGI to accompany the Intel fanfare, and with SGI’s Cyclone cloud offering accidentally offering a neat Itanium to x86 migration platform, it looks like we could finally be seeing the death of Itanium within SGI’s product line.

Silicon Graphics went there in the past with the R8000 MIPS CPU – it had the potential for massive performance, but only if you optimised the code and really knew what you were doing. That level of investment is always a niche game, and with the lower price and better performance for less effort from x86, Itanium was always going to struggle in the long term.

It’s just a shame SGI had to go bankrupt twice and shed a load of talented and skilled engineers to learn the lesson.

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Cyclone – SGI’s Technical Compute Cloud

Silicon Graphics News
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It seems SGI has joined everyone and their dog in jumping on the cloud bandwagon. SGI have just announced Cyclone, their Cloud Computing offering for technical and HPC computing.

The offering is non virtualised (what’s called “single tenancy”) which addresses the main stumbling block to using cloud compute resources for HPC – the overhead of that virtualisation layer. The other stumbling block – how to actually get your data onto the cloud – is addressed by being able to ship drives of data direct to SGI, who will preload it into your compute instance for you.

On the hardware side, Cyclone offers a nice possibility of “try before buy” for compute customers, with SGI’s entire product range available, packed with some GPU and accelerator goodness:

The SGI technology at Cyclone’s core is comprised of some of the world’s fastest supercomputing hardware architectures, including SGI® Altix® scale-up, Altix® ICE scale-out and Altix® XE hybrid clusters, all based on Intel® Xeon® or Itanium® processors. The hybrid architecture offers either NVIDIA® Tesla GPUs or AMD FireStream™ GPU compute accelerators for floating point double precision workloads, and Tilera accelerators for integer workloads. High performance SGI InfiniteStorage systems are available for scratch space and long-term archival of customer data.

Itanium and x86 offerings would offer customers a great way to port their apps from Itanium and onto the new Altix UV platform. But I’m sure SGI would never have done that intentionally. Ahem.

On the software side, SGI will be pre-installing many commonly used technical computing applications:

With Cyclone’s SaaS (Software as a Service) model, SGI delivers access to leading-edge open source applications and best-of-breed commercial software platforms from top Independent Software Vendors (ISVs). Supported applications include: OpenFOAM, NUMECA, Acusolve, LS-Dyna, Gaussian, Gamess, NAMD, Gromacs, LAMMPS, BLAST, FASTA, HMMER, ClustalW and OntoStudio. SGI expects to add additional domains and applications partners over time

SGI are mixing it up with Penguin and NewServers, coming in at a higher price but arguably offering more value by pre-loading software, and enabling users to migrate to in-house SGI hardware later on down the line. Costs are also high compared to Amazon, but really, I can’t see anyone putting HPC or technical compute apps on Amazon’s offering.

You can read more in SGI’s press release here.

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SGI reports Q2 financial results

Silicon Graphics News
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SGI has reported it’s Q2 results for 2010, and there’s some interesting figures that show they are poised to really make the most of their technology in the next few quarters.

Revenue is up to over $90m but SGI still posted a loss of $23m. The last few quarters have been spent consolidating operations and reducing costs, so the loss isn’t as bad as it has been.

A quick aside on one of the quirks of the HPC market. Rules mean that SGI can’t book revenue from HPC installations until they’ve been qualified, and if it’s a multi-year deal they have to book those revenues across the year. This always makes the business look a lot more shaky than it is, which is why they also report non-GAAP figures, which get around this.

According to this, revenues were up at just over $150m with a profit of just over $2m. According to details on the call, SGI are gunning for over $500m in sales this year.

The new Altix UV systems have a lot of promise. Now that Oracle have completed their Sun merger, looking at Sun’s future roadmap their involvement in HPC – both at the hardware and software level – looks doubtful.

This leaves a nice gap for SGI to exploit, and at the lower end HP and Dell don’t have much to offer apart from clusters. With new products and a server market that’s starting to pick up, SGI are well positioned to do well this year.

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