SGI debuts Intel servers

Continuing its push outside the Unix market, Silicon Graphics Inc. last week unveiled its first line of server systems based on Intel Corp. processors, supporting Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT 4.0 and Red Hat Inc.'s Linux 6.0 operating systems.

SGI's new SGI 1400 server expands the company's entry-level server offerings and, more importantly, provides a stepping stone for Linux to enter the high-end server market. Linux is an advanced multiple-user, multitasking operating system introduced into the public domain in 1990 by Linus Torvalds as an alternative to proprietary Unix and Windows solutions.

SGI, which introduced its first Intel/Windows NT-based workstation in January, is offering two versions of the new server: the SGI 1400M, which comes bundled with Windows NT; and the 1400L, which comes pre-loaded with Red Hat's Linux 6.0. In addition, both systems support up to four 500 MHz Xeon Pentium III processors and 4G of memory and offer various reliability and redundancy features.

"Part of our objective is to leverage SGI's strengths in the high-end server market and merge them with industry standards," said Courtney Carr, product manager for the SGI 1400.

While Windows NT already enjoys a healthy market share in the government and commercial sectors, SGI officials believe Linux is quickly becoming an industry standard. As a result, the company has turned its attention to leveraging expertise gained in developing its own proprietary operating system - Irix - to help bolster the ability of Linux to support the high-end server market, Carr said.

Although the Linux market still is largely composed of early adopters who are technology-savvy, "we're very focused on working with the Linux community to ensure that improvements to the operating system are fed back into the [Linux] community," Carr said.

SGI provided enhancements to the Linux 2.2 operating system kernel, including improved World Wide Web serving performance, file sharing improvements and security patches that strengthen Linux's ability to deal with denial-of-service attacks. In addition, SGI is offering customer education and awareness training in Linux and open-source software as well as consulting and on-site integration services for customers that are transitioning to a Linux environment.

Red Hat officials declined to comment, in light of the company's recent initial public offering.

Howard Levenson, SGI Federal Systems' manager of business development, said the government "has already bought into Linux in a big way" and that the operating system already enjoys widespread success in many sectors of the government, such as the research and development community. "Linux is in the infrastructure and nobody knows it's there because it never fails," Levenson said.

According to Levenson, SGI continues to invest heavily in developing Irix, but the company is focusing its efforts on using Irix technology to enhance the scalability of Linux. In fact, Levenson said he sees the day coming when many of the new third-party applications, such as database applications, that have been developed for Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Solaris and SGI's Irix will be developed for a version of Linux that relies on SGI's enhancements.

While "we don't anticipate a time when Linux will scale to 256 processors [like Irix], we have the most to gain from Linux," Levenson said.

Sandra Steere Potter, research director for Linux Services at Aberdeen Group, said "Linux is moving along the adoption curve," powered by technology innovators and early adopters. "Relative to the government space, there's considerable action at the group and department level," Potter said. "I've noticed increasing discussion of the government's dependence upon closed code," she said.

Richard Partridge, services director of parallel systems at the consulting firm D.H. Brown Associates, said SGI's 1400 line begins the process of moving the company away from its own MIPS system architecture and positions it to move to Intel's IA-64 architecture. In addition, SGI believes that Linux offers scalability support for the high-end server market that has not yet been tapped, Partridge said. "SGI is looking to take those parts of Irix that they find particularly valuable and provide add-ons to Linux," Partridge said.

However, while offering Linux on an entry-level server is a way for SGI to "get its feet wet" with open-source code, Partridge said it also is a way for the company to avoid incurring the high costs of continuing to develop its own proprietary operating system. "I think people will be watching this," he said.

Street prices for the new systems range from $7,999 to $30,000. The company plans to add the systems to its General Service Administration contract within a few weeks, Carr said.


At a Glance

SGI 1400L and SGI 1400M

* Red Hat Linux 6.0 OS on the 1400L; Windows NT 4.0 OS on the 1400M

* Up to four 500 MHz Intel Pentium III Xeon processors

* 4G of memory

* 32X CD-ROM drive

* Seven PCI slots

* Six hot-swappable drive bays for internal storage

* Redundant power supplies and cooling fans


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