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New Altix Software Allows 256-Processor Linux System

Mar 10, 2004, 14:00 (4 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

It's good to be on time, and it's even better to be early.

That was the outlook of the Altix and Linux teams at Silcon Graphics this morning as the company announced a new software product that will allow their Altix 3000 product to run up to 256 processors in a single node, or single system image (SSI).

With the release of the company's Advanced Linux Environment with ProPack 2.4, existing and new Altix customers can purchase large Altix systems driven by up to 256 processors, double that of the former production capacity of 128p.

Originally, the Mountain View, CA company was planning on releasing the ProPack 2.4 software much later in 2004, very likely the end of the year. But, according to Linux Product Manager Beverly Bernard, the 128p models of the Altix 3000 and the beta tests of ProPack 2.4 on 256p machines were working so well, SGI felt very confident in releasing the software now, in early March.

The new ProPack software is built atop a modified Linux 2.4.21 kernel, and allows users to implement up to 256p SSI configurations. Since only one kernel is being used, high-intensity computations such as those found in manufacturing, earth sciences, aerospace, and life sciences will work that much faster in a simpler development environment. SGI's shared-memory architecture, NUMAflex, allows huge data sets to be treated as whole entities, instead of being parsed into smaller bits for multiple kernel instances to handle.

For those who need even more power from a clustered set of systems, the new ProPack release will be able to handle up to 1,024p clusters by May, 2004 and even larger after that.

This is not the largest processor capability SGI has turned out: late last year, the NASA Ames Research Center unveiled its 512-processor SGI Altix SSI installation for use in ocean simulation and other research. The NASA system, Bernard emphasized, is experimental in nature and not yet indicative of what the Altix 3000 production models can do.

To look at where the Itanium-based Altix line might be going, one only needs to look at SGI's MIPS/IRIX-based Origin systems, according to Jason Pettit, Altix 3000 Product Line Manager. Certainly SGI's customers are looking there. Pettit explained that more than a few customers are looking at the 512p SSI capabilities of the Origin systems and asking for similar capabilities on the Itanium/Linux Altix systems.

Currently, Bernard confirmed, the company is on track to deliver a 512p Altix production model late this year. Eventually, Pettit added, "Altix may step ahead of the Origin systems" in terms of processor capability.

Coupled with today's announcement was the posting of a new round of HPC benchmarks, with which SGI was understandably pleased.

In test results reported on Feb. 23, an SGI Altix 3000 system (running a 1.5-GHz Intel Itanium 2 processor) recorded Linpack 100x100 benchmark results of 1659 MFLOPS, which outpaced the closest competitor, an HP Integrity Server rx2600 running the same processor and scoring 1635 MFLOPS.

In Linpack 1000x1000 tests, the SGI Altix system delivered the highest score of any single-processor, 1.5-GHz Itanium 2-based system: 5400 MFLOPS, versus 5303 from HP.

The Linpack benchmark is a collection of Fortran subroutines that analyze and solve linear equations and linear least-squares problems.

SGI Altix 3000 systems are available today in server configurations of 4 to 256 processors, and supercluster configurations of 4 to 512 processors. Pettit also explained that these systems are highly configurable, as the ProPack software environment allows for processors, memory, and input/output characteristics to all be configured independently of each other.

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