SGI unveils 'personal supercomputing' that's cheap, easy-to-use

Octane III, which can be expanded to an 80-core system with a capacity of up to 960GB of memory, is SGI's entry into the emerging personal supercomputing market

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

Silicon Graphics International (SGI) 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.

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SGI said multiple configurations are available, which can include use of Nvidia graphics processing unit card as well as Intel's 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 nodes, 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 floating point operations per second (FLOPS) won't put it on the Top 500 supercomputer list, but that's not the point of the machine, SGI says. A key feature instead is the system's ease of use.

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

Other major vendors already have products that fit into this category. Among them is Nvidia, which last fall unveiled a desktop supercomputer, the Tesla Personal Supercomputer , that 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 the personal supercomputer label on the system. Although some users may run this system as truly their own personal HPC system, it supports workgroups as well. It can come preconfigured with Windows Server or its HPC Server 2008 as well as Red Hat and Suse Linux servers, and includes a list of some 50 HPC compatible applications used in engineering, life sciences, oil and gas exploration, and other uses. The customer installs the application.

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

This story, "SGI unveils 'personal supercomputing' that's cheap, easy-to-use" was originally published by Computerworld.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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