SGI stacks up supercomputer, customers

A supercomputer publicly unveiled today already has government customers

lined up to use it on an array of projects, including simulated flight testing

of military jet fighters, designing replacements for the space shuttle and

studying the origins of life in the universe.

Backlog orders already total more than $100 million dollars, according

to industry sources.

Silicon Graphics Inc.'s colossal new numbers-cruncher combines SGI's

Origin 3000 series of servers with its Onyx 3000 series of visualization

systems to create a "brick-style" system known as NUMAflex.

Components, or bricks, fit into a standard 19-inch rack and can be placed

atop one another. SGI said the modular approach enables customers to tailor

a supercomputer to their needs, build it one step at a time and be able

to isolate problems that may occur to one easily replaceable component.

Although the concept seems simple, SGI is billing it as revolutionary.

"We think [modular computing] will replace the all-in-one [box] approach.

We can scale it up from two processors to 512," said Ben Passarelli, director

of advanced systems product management at SGI.

One analyst said she hesitates to use the word "revolutionary" but agreed

SGI has done "some very cool things."

"In the sense of taking a system to new levels, they've not only come

out with a faster processor but a faster architecture as well," said Joyce

Becknell, director of compute platforms and architecture at the Aberdeen

Group Inc., an information technology consulting and market research firm.

The system's entry-level price is about $50,000, which provides a workable

system of two processors and 512M of memory. It scales up from two to 512

processors and up to a terabyte of memory. A terabyte is a measure of computer

storage capacity that equals about 1 trillion bytes or 1,000 gigabytes.

The servers offer the ability to analyze and solve complex problems

previously unsolvable, according to SGI, and the visualization systems offer

a combination of graphics and computing power to be used for such things

as brain mapping, pilot training and simulation, and advanced automotive

modeling.

Federal customers already on board include NASA's Ames Research Center,

the Army Engineering Research and Development Center, the Air Force High

Performance Computing Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and the

Army Research Laboratory.

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