SGI Using ICE To Heat Blade Market


The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based server vendor this week unveiled the SGI Altix ICE, or Integrated Compute Environment, a server blade architecture which allows up to 512 Intel Xeon processor cores with up to 6 Tflops of processing power to fit into a standard rack.

ICE is aimed at bringing the company's Intel-based server blades into the high-performance computing (HPC) market, said Alison Ryan, SGI's vice president of business development and channel sales.

The ICE architecture is based on the company's integrated rack units, four of which fills a standard rack. Each IRU can be configured with up to 128 processor cores using quad-core Xeon processors, or 56 cores with dual-core CPUs, Ryan said.

The ICE 8200 blades are diskless blades designed by SGI and Intel and manufactured by Supermicro, said Bill Mannel, senior director of server marketing at SGI. They use two dual-core or quad-core Xeons, and come with up to 32 Gbytes of memory. They run either SuSE or Red Hat Linux with a software stack from SGI, Mannel said.

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Each IRU also comes integrated with two InfiniBand switches for storage and communications and two Gbit Ethernet backbones for management and monitoring, Mannel said.

Don Coburn, senior sales manager and director of HPC solutions at Hoff and Associates, a Plymouth, Mich.-based solution provider focused on the computer-aided engineering market, said his company works with SGI, Hewlett-Packard, and white-box vendors for servers, but that SGI offers the most bang for the buck.

The high-performance of the ICE along with the savings in energy costs SGI expects customers to see will make the server architecture attractive to clients, Coburn said.

"They're not just looking at the total cost of ownership of the servers," he said. "But when they have to perform a major upgrade of their data center room or power, a great amount of costs are involved. Such customers will be very interested in the space and power and cooling savings they can realize."

One of Hoff and Associates' customers uses an older generation of servers, and has about 60 processors on one-and-a-half racks, Coburn said.

"Last year, when we were talking about expanding their servers, we talked about the need to add cooling and floor space to accommodate it," he said. "But with ICE, we can replace their one-and-a-half racks with a quarter of a rack that should use significantly less power overall."

The scalability of the ICE is impressive, Coburn said. However, he expects most of his clients to be more interested in the dual-core processors rather than the quad-core models.

"Most of our studies indicate that, while quad-core performance is higher, licensing costs are higher as well," he said. "More of our application vendors charge on a per-core bases. But doubling the number of cores in a processor does not double the processing power. But maybe universities, which run software that is free, would want quad-core to squeeze as many cores as possible into a rack."

The ICE could be a tool for solution providers to move into the HPC market, as that market continues to move away from a focus on academic and niche users to become more accepted by commercial customers, Ryan said.

"Commercial and enterprise customers are really starting to require HPC," she said. "It's been moving out to manufacturing and retail customers most recently. We're working to make clustered computing more available."

The new ICE products have already been shipping in limited quantity to early-access customers, Ryan said. General availability is expected next month. A fully-populated rack with 512 processor cores is priced at about $350,000.

SGI has about 125 solution providers, including about 75 who are "active," Ryan said.