SGI Announces Strategic AMD Processor Adoption Plan

Silicon Graphics News
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Catching up on some SGI news, and along with the details of some nifty new storage products (more on those soon) the really interesting news is that SGI have announced a new partnership with AMD.

Day-one support for the new AMD Opteron 6000 series platforms is offered across SGI’s entire design-to-order server portfolio, including CloudRack™ and Rackable™ scale-out servers and SGI® InfiniteStorage servers. The ICE Cube™ modular data center also supports AMD Opteron processors for the first time.

It’s not just the old Rackable gear which is getting some AMD love – the ‘proper’ SGI product line is also getting Opterons:

As part of SGI’s increased commitment to AMD processor support, SGI expects to release AMD Opteron processor-based configurations of its Altix® ICE high performance computing (HPC) clusters and Octane™ III personal supercomputer later this year. Similarly, the SGI HPC cluster software stack will also be available on the AMD Opteron platform for the first time.

No mention of AMD support for the Altix, which is odd. When Silicon Graphics first said they were dropping the MIPS Origins and moving to Intel processors, the first thought was – why not AMD? AMD had a credible NUMA connect – Hypertransport – whereas Intel’s x86 offerings were still stuck with legacy bus interconnects. Itanium was too much of a wild card – but SGI drank the cool aid and embarked on a painful path.

You just need to have a look at Cray, who have managed a successful transition to AMD cores, and done pretty well out of it, to see what might have been. Cray clearly had the better idea – migrate to AMD and Hypertransport, plugging it into their own NUMA interconnect, and then drop in Intel x86 chips when they finally mature.

Nehalem is the long overdue x86 with a sensible NUMA interconnect, and Cray are well positioned to take advantage of the manufacturing scale. SGI’s use of AMD Opterons seems long overdue, and the timing is odd now that AMD seem to be struggling to keep Opterons performing well against the new Nehalems.

Could SGI be hedging their bets, opening up customer choice with AMD at the low end, and seeing how things pan out before plugging Opteron in to the high end Altix? Or are they treading carefully with Intel to secure higher performing Nehalem Xeon chips for the high end?

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SGI launch the Octane III

Silicon Graphics News
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SGI have posted details about their new workstation, the Octane III. Although SGI are raiding the ghosts of workstations past for the name, sadly this isn’t heralding a return to MIPS and IRIX goodness.

In fact the Octane III seems to be going for the market created by the Cray CX-1, and the much missed machines from Orion – personal supercomputers.

As with all things from SGI, the first thing to look at is the case design.

Silicon Graphics SGI Octane III

Oh dear. Why drag out the good Octane name if you’re going to release a dull grey box? The Cray CX-1 looks like an extra from a sci-fi film – this just looks like a Dell. And – I’m sorry guys – but the new SGI logo makes the baby Jesus cry. It’s just terrible. (Brand New have an excellent deconstruction of the new logo, well worth a read)

Look at the awesome Cray CX-1:

Cray CX-1

Or SiCortex’s fantastic SC072:

SiCortex SC072

Or the original Silicon Graphics Octane (mine’s still in use, they’re awesome bits of kit):

Silicon Graphics Octane

Inside the case, though, things start to sound a bit better. The machine is available in three different configurations, all of which can run Red Hat or SUSE Linux (which SGI’s excellent ProPack enhancements) or Windows HPC Server 2008:

  • 19 Dual-Core Single Socket systems, giving 38 cores and 76GB RAM
  • Ten dual-socket quad-core Xeons processor boards, giving 80 cores and 960GB RAM
  • A single dual-socket Quad-Core Xeon processor board with 144GB Ram and 7 PCI-Express slots (2 x16, 4 x8, and a x4 for the RAID card)

The last option, the “graphics workstation”, is particularly underwhelming. The motherboard is mounted vertically, so the system essentially becomes the same as any stock, high end desktop.

Worse still, it seems all that NUMA goodness that made Origin 200s, 300s, and the rackmount Tezro such kick arse workstations is missing – sure, you can have 960GB RAM in an Octane III, but it’s not global shared memory. 10 processor boards, each with 96GB of local memory.

It’s a cluster in a box, using GigE or Infiniband (DDR or QDR) as the interconnect. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, except in a configuration like this it gives you zero flexibility. Unless you’ve got a workload that parallelises nicely, you’ll be running into some walls.

The prices start just under $8k for a single Nehalem node with 8 cores, and rises to $53k for 10 nodes, with 80 cores and 240GB of memory (24GB per node). Raid the piggy bank if you want to max out the RAM or have QDR Infiniband as the interconnect.

And here lies the big problem with this system – there’s too much overlap with the recently announced Cloudrack X2 systems. Sure, those require actual racks, and cooling, whereas the Octane III can run from a single 240V socket. (And it’s “whisper quiet”, apparently. Although to be fair, even large jet airliners are “whisper quiet” compared to the original Octane in fastfans mode).

Apart from being able to stick it on your desk, the Octane III just doesn’t seem to have much going for it, compared to the Cloudrack X2 or a decent high-end graphics workstation. The Cray CX-1 makes sense – Cray don’t really do ‘small’ supers, so having a deskside system is a good play – it’s a stepping stone to their bigger systems.

To make this work, SGI will have to sell in volume, and via it’s channel and partners. Can they duplicate Cray’s success with the CX-1? I’m not sure, especially as it’s not immediately obvious who this machine will appeal to. Really, I’d love to see SGI ship some sexy and powerful development and graphics workstations or baby supers, but the Octane III just seems too weak in too many areas.

You can grab full specs and datasheets over at SGI’s Octane III page.

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With Silicon Graphics, Roshydromet Improves Accuracy and Speed of Weather Forecasts to Save Lives and Property

Silicon Graphics News
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Russia’s Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring (Roshydromet) after a thorough evaluation and rigorous procurement procedure has deployed Silicon Graphics solutions to rapidly develop detailed models that enable more precise weather forecasts. The systems operate at 27 trillion operations per second, providing 10,000 times the computational power of Roshydromet’s previous Cray supercomputer. This enhanced capability has expanded both the forecast duration and the accuracy of these critical forecasts.

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