SGI fashions plan for Intel-based servers

Just two weeks after the inauguration of its first line of Windows NT-based workstations, Silicon Graphics Inc. last week laid out a broad new product strategy that calls for a new server line supporting Windows NT and Linux.

Known for its dominance in the high-end Unix workstation and server markets, SGI revealed plans to develop an industry-standard server line based on Intel Corp.'s IA-32 processor architecture, which is the basis of its Pentium and Pentium II processors.

The new system also will support Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT operating system and Linux, a "public domain" operating system available from vendors such as Red Hat Software Inc. and Caldera Systems Inc.

Patricia Harrell, SGI's director of marketing for servers, said the new strategy is an effort to grow the company's lead in the technical server market and to leverage its strengths in that area to take advantage of mainstream opportunities. "We see some really good opportunities in the low-end [server market] that we're not covering today with our current product line," Harrell said.

Hot on the heels of its Windows NT workstation announcement, SGI expects its new server line to augment and power the company's penetration into the workgroup arena. "We plan to try to get some of the workgroup server business [that came] along with our new line of workstations," said Harrell, referring to the company's new SGI 320 and 540 Windows NT-based visual workstations [FCW, Jan. 11].

However, the company pledged continued support for its high-end Unix systems by extending through 2002 its roadmap for the 64-bit MIPS reduced instruction-set computer microprocessor. Its plans include the release of a 600 MHz and 800 MHz version in 2001 and 2002 respectively.

The current plan for MIPS, a proprietary processor technology from MIPS Technology Inc. that works with SGI's Irix operating system for high-end technical computing applications, called for a 450 MHz version through 2000. "We put an additional two processors on the roadmap to provide a continued growth path in terms of performance for [our current MIPS] customers," Harrell said.

The Linux operating system also will play a central role in SGI's strategy for the future, according to Harrell. In fact, in December the company became the first major Unix vendor to offer support for Samba software, a popular suite of open source applications that provide users with the ability to integrate heterogeneous computing environments, including Windows NT, Unix and Linux.

Jerry Sheridan, director of client/server computing for Dataquest, San Jose, Calif., said SGI's server plans appear to be "evolutionary in nature" and fit nicely into the company's recent Windows NT workstation efforts. In addition, Sheridan said he was not surprised by the decision to support Linux. "We're seeing more and more hardware and software vendors announcing support for Linux," including Dell Computer Corp., Compaq Computer Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co., Sheridan said.

According to Sheridan, SGI's existing customers who are looking to consolidate their server farms probably will be quite interested in the new servers. Sheridan said success with new customers will depend on price, performance, and the number and type of applications that SGI makes available.

However, Sheridan said SGI has the technology base to provide a highly scalable solution over time. "It's not out of the realm of possibility" that SGI could take its existing computing architecture technology and develop an Intel-based system capable of supporting hundreds of processors, Sheridan said.

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