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SGI introduces Intel-based blade for HPC workloads

New ultra-dense blade servers touting Intel Xeon processors are designed specifically for high performance computing and scale-out applications.

Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI) introduced a new blade server platform today, the SGI Altix ICE 8200, designed specifically...

for true high-performance computing (HPC) applications and large scale-out workloads.

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The new Altix ICE, which stands for Integrated Compute Environment, has an ultra-dense rack architecture and delivers up to 40% more compute performance per floor tile than competing blade servers, according to SGI. A single SGI Altix ICE 8200 rack can be powered by up to 512 Intel Corp. Xeon processor cores and can deliver six trillion floating point operations per second (TFLOPS) of performance.

The company does not currently offer an Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) processor option.

"The need for supercomputing has grown, as have the clusters. We are introducing this new product for customers interested in large installations of cluster-type compute environments," said Bill Mannel, senior director, SGI server marketing. "The new server leverages Altix aspects but is designed from the ground up as an HPC blade box."

SGI Altix ICE systems have already been installed at a number of customer sites, including the University of Exeter in England and General Atomics in San Diego.

General Atomics reportedly needed more compute capacity but its maxed-out computer room didn't have the space or the cooling to handle more heat. The company chose SGI's new blade rack because it has a small data center footprint and low energy consumption.

SGI claims that the Altix ICE's energy-smart design can save companies up to $53,000 in annual energy costs for a 10 TFLOP system.

The platform arrives already integrated for quick deployment, relieving customers from setup and administration work. SGI integrates customer software and related licenses at the factory before shipping it to data centers. Users can also hook up to the systems and log in while the servers are still at the factory to test them out, Mannel said.

Atoka board delivers blade density

SGI attained the major density improvements in Altix ICE by implementing a new, highly integrated version of its Atoka board. The Atoka is a custom motherboard designed with Intel and Supermicro Computer Inc. that started shipping in the first quarter of this year.

The Atoka board has helped SGI differentiate itself and return to profitability after filing bankruptcy in May 2006, according to a company spokesperson.

SGI entered the x86 server market with its Altix XE last August in an effort to gain much needed revenue. The company reported a profit of $1 million (non-GAAP basis) in Q3 2007, which ended March 30. An SGI spokesperson said profitability was not the result of the Altix XE210/240, the company's first Intel Xeon-based product, but the Altix XE 310 with the first Atoka board.

"Altix ICE is much more differentiated, and we see it as helping contribute more to the turn around of the company, the spokesperson said. That said, "the Altix 4700 and 450 Itanium 2 systems are still responsible for most of our revenue."

Altix ICE specifications

A single SGI Altix ICE 8200 blade can be powered by two dual-core or quad-core Intel Xeon processors and up to 32 GB of memory. It also supports dual high-speed, low-latency double data rate (DDR) InfiniBand backplanes for fast communication between nodes and racks, even as deployments scale to thousands of processors. By dedicating a Gigabit Ethernet network for administrative tasks, SGI frees up the 20 Gbps DDR InfiniBand connection for compute traffic. The new system also utilizes a hierarchical network topology that requires no external switching, SGI reported.

"We focused on core HPC components -- just a couple Xeon sockets, eight DIMM slots, and it doesn't have the stuff [HPC users] don't need. It is purely about running a portion of a customer's code. You aren't plugging in video cards or any features that wouldn't be used in HPC servers," Mannel said.

SGI gave its new platform a cable-free individual rack unit (IRU) design and on-board InfiniBand network interface cards to reduce the number of failure points in every rack. SGI Altix ICE 8200 racks feature redundant, hot-swap power and cooling components.

As for operating systems, Altix runs industry standard Linux operating systems, SUSE or Red Hat. SGI is also talking to Microsoft about supporting its operating system on its clusters in the future, Mannel said.

Greener design

SGI's new blade server is more environmentally friendly than previous generations, using energy-conscious innovations, the company claims. The SGI Altix ICE features better than 90% efficiency on its 12-volt DC front-end power supply, up to 87% efficiency on compute blades and up to 76% efficiency at the rack level.

The new platform also uses SGI's third-generation water-cooled door design. Chilled water runs through the hinged door and carries away up to 95% of the heat generated by an SGI Altix ICE system. More than 250 water-cooled doors have already been installed and proven reliable on existing SGI Altix systems worldwide.

Matthew Bate, a professor of Theoretical Astrophysics at the University of Exeter, U.K., uses the SGI blade running Linux in an old machine room in the astrophysics department that has very limited cooling.

"SGI's new system has removed many of the non-essential components from their blades giving power and, thus, heat savings over typical clusters. This was important to us. The blades are also diskless and the wiring has been drastically reduced, which promises increased reliability for the system - again very important to us," Bate said.

"If a rack holds 512 cores, it will throw off a lot of heat. I've seen about 32 kW up to 40 kW of power in a chassis," said Mannel. Mannel suggests customized cooling systems for customers with more than two full chassis.

SGI Altix ICE 8200 is available from SGI and SGI resellers today in configurations ranging from eight to 512 cores per rack. A full rack powered by 512 Intel Xeon cores starts at approximately $350,000.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Bridget Botelho, News Writer

Also, check out our news blog at serverspecs.blogs.techtarget.com

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