Supercomputer stacks up

A supercomputer unveiled July 25 already has government customers lined

up to use it, for tasks such as simulated flight testing of military jet

fighters, designing replacements for the space shuttle and studying the

origin of life in the universe. Backlog orders for the system total more

than $100 million, industry sources say.

Silicon Graphics Inc.'s colossal new number-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 isolate problems to one

replaceable component.

"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, SGI's

director of advanced systems product management.

Joyce Becknell, director of computer platforms and architecture at Aberdeen

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

said SGI has done "some very cool things.... They've not only come out with

a faster processor but a faster architecture."

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

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

and up to a terabyte of memory. NASA's Ames Research Center has ordered

two 512-processor systems and will combine them to serve as a test bed for

a 1,024-processor system.

The servers offer the ability to analyze and solve complex problems,

and the visualization systems offer graphics and computing power for such

things as brain mapping, flight simulation, and advanced automotive modeling.

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