Project Ultraviolet and the future of Itanium Altix

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Those paying attention to Silicon Graphics history will recall Dr. Eng Lim Goh back in 2004 talking about Project Ultraviolet – a supercomputer that used different types of processor types in a single frame. Although the original white paper has vanished from the SGI site, archive.org has a mirror available here.

The idea of HEC Architecture (High Efficiency Computing) and Multi-Paradigm Computing is a good one, and we’ve already been seeing the fruits in that, specifically Altix gear with FPGAs, and the rise of the GPGPU. Is the current Project Ultraviolet the same beast as the one outlined 5+ years ago?

I mentioned back in February the possibility that, with Tukwila delays and Nehalem processors having a NUMA interface, the time was ripe for SGI to put Nehalem Xeons into the Altix.

Now that Rackable have taken over the shell of SGI and have finalised their product offerings, we can see an interesting mix of processing power. Rackable have both Opteron and Xeon in their gear, whereas the (old) SGI had Xeon and Itanium.

With the Nehalem Xeons having the QuickPath interconnect, and Opteron always having had the NUMA HyperTransport, is now the time for Itanium to be shown the door?

HPCWire and InsideHPC (who know their stuff and are well worth a read) seem to think so. Even the eternally inaccurate TPM at The Register is agreeing (top tip, Timothy – NUMAlink is not a ‘cluster’ interconnect).

Xeons and Opterons inside the shared memory Altix make a lot of sense – immediate cost savings, the chips already have NUMA interconnects so not too much engineering required, and an instant boost in apps and developers.

Existing Itanium customers aren’t going to be too happy, but I’d point people at John Mashey’s excellent essay on the design behind the NUMAflex architecture. These machines were designed to be flexible, to swap CPUs without having to swap the frames, I/O subsystems, and everything else, thus protecting the customer’s investment in the technology, and lowering the price (and pain) of upgrades.

SGI CEO Mark Barranechea has re-confirmed the company’s commitment to Itanium on his blog – but with so many existing customers running on Altix gear, it would have been a PR disaster not to.

I think it’s clear that the next Altix cc:NUMA system will be based around Nehalem Xeon processors. The odds are good that we’ll be seeing an Opteron version as well, and it’ll be interesting to see how that stacks up against offerings from Cray.

As for Itanium? I think we will be seeing a Tukwila based Altix next year sometime. After that, I doubt very much we’ll see future Itanium kit from SGI.

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Interview with SGI’s new CEO

Silicon Graphics News
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John West over at insideHPC has landed an exclusive interview with SGI’s CEO, Mark Barrenechea.

The article is a great read, and John gets some good information on the new SGI’s product roadmap, including news that the Silicon Graphics visualisation technology (the impressive VUE suite) still has a future.

Perhaps the best news is that SGI’s plan for an Altix system based on Intel’s Xeon processors, as opposed to Itanium, is still coming down the line. Itanium has always been a step backwards from MIPs, and Xeon beats it hands down in the price/performance stakes, optimised code or no. With SC09 coming up in November could we be seeing a product announcement?

Mark also has a blog over at http://ceoblog.rackable.com/ which is also worth your time. Another big positive for the new company – the CEO is happy to communicate openly on his company’s website, something Silicon Graphics should have paid attention to many years ago.

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NASA Supercomputing Goes Green: Modeling Earth’s Ocean Climate

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NASA have been playing about with their Silicon Graphics supercomputers, using new models for more accurate climate change predication. By mapping the faces of a cube to the surface of a sphere, they’ve worked out that they get a higher degree of accuracy and more realistic modelling.

Climate modelling is one of the most resource intensive compute jobs you can carry out. NASA have been using their Silicon Graphics Columbia supercomputer for the initial simulation, and then moved to the more powerful SGI Pleiades installation.

You can read more – as well as watch a cool video with details of the visualisation – at this page on NASA’s site.

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Another 9 percent to go at Silicon Graphics

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Bad news – more layoffs at Silicon Graphics. This time 9% of the workforce – 120 people. Coming hard on the heels of the announcement that SGI have landed the DoD infrastructure refresh deal, this must be an especially bitter pill for those let go to have to swallow.

The Register has some more details, as well as more rumours and speculation that Silicon Graphics will finally ditch Itanium and stick with 64bit Xeon Nehalem chips. I’ve discussed their Quick Path Interconnect (QPI) before, and I reckon they’ll probably a much more favourable price point (for both SGI and it’s customers) in the big Altix gear.

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UK’s Institute of Cancer Research and Silicon Graphics Establish Long-Term Alliance to Design and Outfit World-Class Network Biology Lab

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SUNNYVALE, Calif., Feb. 17 — As part of a multi-year collaboration, Silicon Graphics, Inc. (SGI) (Nasdaq: SGIC) today announced it will provide the high-productivity solutions needed to outfit a new world-class cancer research facility in the United Kingdom.

Silicon Graphics has been selected to equip, over the next five or more years, an initiative in integrated network biology at London’s renowned The Institute of Cancer Research. Expected to open in spring 2009, the initiative in integrated network biology at The Institute will arm a team of cancer research pioneers with advanced compute, storage and visualization solutions built, implemented and optimized by Silicon Graphics.

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