Origin 400 SMB blade server?

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An entertaining glitch in SGI‘s RSS feed on Friday has leaked out some details of an incoming new server aimed specifically at SMBs. The headline read “SGI Announces Origin 400 Blade System for SMB and Enterprise Markets” and unfortunately didn’t link through to a valid article.

Over at InsideHPC, John West has managed to dig up some more details – it should be a 6u form factor box, with 6 dual socket blades, and integrated storage presented as NAS.

The name choice is an interesting one. SGI are clearly wanting to capitalise on some of their brand name power – a bit of a risky strategy, though. The Octane 3 was a disappointment in many ways, and the Origin line were also rock solid, scalable bits of kit. I know several people who still have Origin 200 clusters and NUMA stacks in play today, so with that sort of longevity and scalability, re-using the brand name could seriously backfire on SGI if they push out a mediocre product.

Having said that, the SMB push is a welcome direction from SGI. Now that Oracle have finally consumed Sun, we’ve already been seeing Sun’s competent x86 line vanishing from their site – clearly there’s demand for well engineered solutions in this space that go beyond the HP/Dell approach of stacks of ‘nothing special’ 1u and 2u servers.

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SGI buys assets of COPAN

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In an odd bit of news, SGI have bought the assets of COPAN systems. COPAN built clever MAID devices – essentially storage clusters that could spin down when not used. MAID – Massive Array of Idle Disks – was designed to provide archive storage using cheap disk instead of expensive tape.

Through a friend I knew someone high up in COPAN who left a while ago to take up a similar position at 3PAR. COPAN had some clever ideas and some neat products, which sadly wasn’t enough to keep the company going in the current climate.

What’s odd about this is – why have SGI bought the remains? MAID is a clever idea and slots quite nicely into people’s existing HSM offerings. (HSM – Hierarchical Storage Management – is all about long term archival storage, and nothing to do with the appalling series of films from Disney which my kids seem to love so much. I weep for the future etc. etc.).

MAID was a perfect fit for a client I recently worked with who were doing digital imaging archiving – but unfortunately it’s a niche product and the vendors involved seem to miss out on the large bids. (In this case they went with standard RAID offerings from HDS). If SGI are going to try and punt pure MAID storage they’ll be facing similar issues.

SGI do have some solid HSM products – but they also have a very diversified product portfolio, and the company seems to still be struggling to find a unified identity for it’s solutions. Adding another bundle of products into the mix seems pretty risky, especially with the fallout from the latest bankruptcy and the takeover still rumbling on.

Do SGI really have that many customers saying “Hey, I’d like to buy some Altix ICE/Altix CE/Altix UV kit, but you don’t have any MAID storage on the proposal, so we’ll be going to IBM/HP/Dell?”

I could see this working if SGI take the COPAN technology and integrate it into their own products. I’m thinking of something along the lines of the old CXFS kit, which had a couple of Origin 300 heads in the top of the storage rack to handle CXFS metadata. It would require a chunk of engineering resource, and then an even bigger chunk of sales and marketing to shift the boxes – but could SGI pull it off?

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Too little, too late – Tukwila Itanium is released

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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

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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

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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.

You can read the full details here.

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