Brick-by-Brick Computing

SAN MATEO (07/25/2000) - Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI) on Tuesday launched its SGI 3000 family of servers and workstations that sport a modular design and building block-like computer architecture.

The new systems are based on a "brick"-style construction for building small to very large systems using common building blocks, according to Ben Passarelli, the director of advanced systems product management for SGI.

Relying on SGI-patented NUMAflex technology, each drawer-like brick of the SGI 3000 family has its own specific function and can be linked to other specialized bricks to form a fully customized configuration.

"We've refined NUMA (non-uniform memory access) so the distance latency between (the bricks) is so small you can ignore it," said Passarelli.

SGI is offering seven bricks for all initial 3000 family configurations.

The C-brick, which houses the processors, the P-brick for PCI expansion, the D-brick for disk storage, the R-brick for router interconnects, the I-brick which serves as the base I/O module, the X-brick which provides throughput expansion for gigabyte networks, and the G-brick which adds advanced graphics capabilities.

Each brick mounts on a standard 19-inch rack, but some customization may be necessary for larger implementations to prevent cable kinking, according to Passarelli.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company will add additional bricks to the 3000 series as newer technologies arrive, such as Infiniband and PCI-X.

"A good analogy is when I bought my stereo, it had modular inputs to let me add features that I didn't have or that weren't even invented yet, like a CD player or DVD," said Passarelli.

A base configuration would require the minimum of a C-brick and an I-brick.

Entry-level pricing begins at US$50,000. And a single system can scale from two to 512 processors and up to a terabyte of memory, officials said.

SGI is rolling out the new 3000 family as the SGI Origin 3000, a server configuration, and the SGI Onyx 3000, a high-end graphics workstation. The company promises 100 percent binary compatibility with the Origin and Onyx 2000 series systems, which are not modular.

But according to Passarelli, retaining the Origin and Onyx names was a decision based solely on customer recognition, as "the new systems can scale anyway you want. All you have to do is add a G-brick to your Origin system and you have an Onyx," said Passarelli.

Dan Neel is an InfoWorld reporter.

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