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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Project Ultraviolet and the future of Itanium Altix

Silicon Graphics News


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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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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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