7 January 2003 Hardware vendor Silicon Graphics (SGI) claims to have developed clustering technology that will enable it to build Linux supercomputers that can rival the fastest Unix-based machines from IBM and Hewlett-Packard (HP).
At the heart of SGI’s technology is a proprietary interconnect technology, which will debut in SGI’s new Altix 3000 server.
Each ‘node’ of the supercomputer runs a single Linux operating system image, with up to 64 Intel Itanium 2 microprocessors and 512 gigabytes of memory. The SGI interconnect clusters these nodes together at speeds that SGI claims are up to 200 times faster than conventional clustering technologies.
Supercomputers require large amounts of global shared memory to work out calculations that cannot easily be broken down into smaller pieces. They would typically be used in weather forecasting or wind tunnel simulations for aircraft design.
Current Linux supercomputers are unable to share memory between microprocessors, greatly reducing performance.
The Altix 3000 will principally be targetted at the life sciences, manufacturing, oil and gas, government and defence markets. A 64-microprocessor Altix 3000 ‘supercluster’ will cost $1.13 million (€1.09m), one third of the price of an equivilent IBM eServer pSeries 690 and less than half the list price of an HP Superdome, says SGI.
The underlying server is based on SGI’s Origin 3000 system, which uses MIPS microprocessors and Irix, SGI’s version of Unix, which SGI plans to phase out in favour of Linux. While the Altix 3000 can run 64-bit Red Hat Linux, SGI recommends that users run its own distribution of Linux, which includes such features as an improved file system.