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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Will we be seeing big Nehalem Altix boxes from SGI this year?

Silicon Graphics News
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It looks like Intel will be pushing the next version of Itanium, Tukwila, out the door in the second half of this year. Issues with DDR3 look like they’re resolved, so it looks like a firm date.

But the usual Itanium suspects – SGI and HP – are strangely quiet. Silicon Graphics in particular use Itanium in big boxes – we’re not talking off the shelf kit here, they have a long lead time and the sales process is equally long. So it would make sense for SGI to be talking to customers now about Tukwila equipped Altix 4700s – 6 or 8 cores on a 1024 processor machine is serious bragging rights.

This raises the interesting possibility that Silicon Graphics will be (finally) dropping Itanium, and instead going for Nehalem Xeons in the big Altix gear, utilising their nifty Quick Path Interconnect.

With all the financial woe going on, this would make serious cost savings for Silicon Graphics – I think we’ll be seeing some interesting product announcements this year.

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Intel’s Nehalem opens up some options for Silicon Graphics

Silicon Graphics News, supercomputing
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Intel have announced their “Nehalem” processors will be coming to market in Q1 2009, with 2, 4 or 8 cores. Nothing to spectacular there (see Sun’s OpenSPARC CPU to see how to really scale with cores) but moving away from arguments about how multi-cores are better, Nehalem uses Intel’s QuickPath Interconnect (QPI) and that’s of great interest to Silicon Graphics customers.

QPI will be used by both Nehalem Xeon processors and the upcoming Tukwila Itaniums. This means that SGI’s biggest class of box – the Altix 4700 – could in theory be perfectly happy with either newer Itaniums, or make the move to cheaper Nehalem Xeons.

The next generation of Altix ICE blades will definitely be sporting the new Xeon processors (along with double data rate (DDR) Infiniband), but it’s the scalability of the bigger Altix NUMA boxes that are of interest to many customers. Given the architecture can scale to 128TB of shared memory, and with installations running up to 4096+ cores, being able to shove 8-way CPUs per socket would be a massive shot in the arm to the system – along with the increases in memory density and cooler running that will come with the new processors.

Being able to shove the cheaper Xeons into the high end offerings also means Silicon Graphics can lower production costs and increase margin, which given the recent quarterly earnings reports can only be a good thing.

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