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SGI aims at 'personal supercomputing' that's cheap, easy to use

Company unveils its entry into the emerging personal supercomputing market

September 22, 2009 07:17 AM ET

Computerworld - They aren't selling personal supercomputers at Best Buy just yet. But that day probably isn't too far off, as costs continue to fall and supercomputers become easier to use.

Silicon Graphics International Corp. on Monday released its first so-called personal supercomputer. The new Octane III system is priced from $7,995 with one Xeon 5500 processor. The system can be expanded to an 80-core system with a capacity of up to 960GB of memory.

SGI said the multiple configurations available can include use of an Nvidia graphics processing unit card as well as an Intel low-powered Atom chip. SGI says that Atom chips are being used for application development and testing scale-out application code.

An Octane III with a 10 dual socket, four cores, Xeon L5520 processors, for 80 cores, 240GB of memory and integrated Gigabit Ethernet networking is priced at about $53,000.

This new supercomputer's peak performance of about 726 GFLOPS won't put it on the Top500 supercomputer list, but that's not the point of the machine, SGI says. Rather, a key feature is the system's ease of use.

Steve Conway, an analyst IDC, says the new SGI system joins a $2 billion worldwide market of high-performance computing (HPC) systems that cost less than $100,000. That market is expected to grow to $2.7 billion by 2013, or nearly 6% annually, which is a good rate considering that server sales generally cratered this year, he said.

Other major vendors already have products that fit into this category. Among them is Nvidia Corp., which last fall unveiled a desktop supercomputer, the Tesla Personal Supercomputer, which relies heavily on graphics processing unit cards.

This market is mostly "made up of people who typically don't have HPC experience, and so the transition to these systems has to be easy," said Conway. He said SGI has a good history of producing systems that work well out of the box.

But Conway questioned putting the "personal supercomputer" label on the system. Although some users may truly run this system as their own personal HPC system, it supports workgroups as well. It can be preconfigured with Windows Server or its HPC Server 2008, as well as Red Hat and SUSE Linux servers. Some 50 HPC-compatible applications used in engineering, life sciences, oil and gas exploration, and other uses can be installed by the customer.

Silicon Graphics was an independent company until May of last year, when it was acquired for $42.5 million by Rackable Systems Inc. Rackable subsequently changed the name of the combined companies to Silicon Graphics International Corp.

Read more about High Performance Computing in Computerworld's High Performance Computing Topic Center.



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