New "denser" SGI Origin adds processors to racks

Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI) has developed a new addition to its Origin line of supercomputers allowing the company to insert more processors into its current footprint by repackaging the central unit holding the Origin's processors and memory, it said in a release Monday.

Users who demand extremely powerful computers can choose between building clusters of smaller systems or using large supercomputers, both of which occupy a great deal of space, said Addison Snell, product marketing manager for SGI. These options are impractical for small environments, such as a ship searching for oil fields under the ocean floor.

Previous Origin machines could fit 32 MIPS processors in a 4U (7 inches) rack space, but with the new design, users can enter the supercomputing realm with 128 processors in the new four-rack Origin 3900, Snell said.

The company's existing hub of four MIPS processors and their corresponding memory boards, which it calls a "c-brick," fits into a 3U rack space. SGI condensed each c-brick into a single board that measures 1U high, and due to the low heat dissipation of the MIPS processor, SGI was able to stack four boards into a "superbrick" that will fit into a 4U rack space, Snell said.

This allows researchers to use a much denser server to execute complex computations that normally would need to be processed on a supercomputer too large for the research site, he said.

While the desktop processor world is caught up in megahertz wars, the supercomputing environment is much more concerned with reducing the distance between the processor and the memory. The shorter the distance between the two, the faster data can be exchanged and processed. And when a scientist is running huge streams of data through the Origin 3900, the nanoseconds gained through bringing the components closer together adds up quickly, Snell said.

"No one has figured out how to increase the speed of light yet," said Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, New Hampshire. "The SGI system is built around keeping the paths of the systems as physically short as possible."

The Origin 3900 comes in many different configurations, utilizing as many as 512 processors or as little as four processors. A sample configuration with 128 processors and 4G bytes of memory costs US$2.93 million.

The Mountain View, California, company will demonstrate the technology at the Supercomputing 2002 conference in Baltimore Nov. 18. It will also show its forthcoming 64-processor Linux supercomputer powered by Intel Corp.'s Itanium 2 processor.

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