SGI sheds light on supercomputer of the future

Silicon Graphics (SGI) hopes to reinvent its large multiprocessor supercomputers as high-performance machines that can take advantage of a wide variety of processor architectures, the company said Monday at the Supercomputing 2003 conference in Phoenix.

SGI makes servers such as the 128-processor Altix supercomputer for researchers and scientists who require a great deal of computing power for complex tasks. The goal of "Project Ultraviolet" is to build a server that can run a number of different types of processors, said Dave Parry, senior vice president and general manager of SGI's server and platform group.

Systems developed through Project Ultraviolet will incorporate general purpose processors such as Intel's Itanium 2 as well as FPGA (field programmable gate array) chips that can be configured by users for specific tasks, Parry said.

"This is a science-driven architecture. We want to provide a computational architecture and programming environment to allow scientists to spend their time on science, not computer science," Parry said.

SGI's approach will be to develop a system architecture that can perform a number of different analyses on data at the same time, allowing scientists to tackle complex problems from a variety of angles, Parry said. SGI will use its Numaflex memory architecture to allow users to store entire databases in a pool of shared memory that can more quickly interact with the system's processors than other distributed architectures, he said.

Another approach to supercomputing is to group a number of less expensive PCs or servers into a cluster. Systems built using that approach are climbing the Top 500 list of the world's fastest supercomputers, but a large multiprocessor system is better equipped to handle a variety of complex scientific computing tasks than a cluster, which is better suited for simpler labor-intensive tasks, Parry said.

SGI will develop servers under Project Ultraviolet that range from small two-way servers to large supercomputers, Parry said. The first results of the effort won't arrive until 2005 with a complete system due out around 2007, he said.

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