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SGI Makes Bigger Push Into Midrange Linux

The Middle of the Road

  • July 11, 2005
  • By Jacqueline Emigh

With today's launch of new Linux-enabled servers and storage systems, SGI has started a much bigger push from its original home in very high-end technical computing to a midrange enterprise market now dominated by the likes of IBM and Hewlett-Packard.

Linchpins of SGI's plans to penetrate this space include price points starting under $7,000, a new "Quick Ship" program for delivering orders within three working days, and active recruitment of resellers in the enterprise arena, SGI officials said, in a pre-briefing for LinuxPlanet.

SGI will also leverage a reputation for top quality engineering already first earned as the maker of former maker of Cray supercomputers and RISC-based servers and tech workstations, according to Hao Pham, product marketing manager for SGI's Altix server line-up.

"We won't be absolutely the cheapest (in midrange Linux), but we will provide the highest price performance," Pham told LinuxPlanet.

As some customers and analysts see it, SGI's current leadership in Itanium 2-based NUMA architectures will give the company's new hardware a big competitive advantage, especially for certain types of workgroup- and departmental-level enterprise applications.

"SGI stands out with its technology," said Rich Partridge, an analyst at Ideas International who specializes in the server market.

"But what will really make (the new products) a success, or not, is how quickly SGI can reach out to the channel--to get (enterprise) resellers feeling that SGI is the vendor they want to recommend, and to lead with," he told LinuxPlanet.

Today's product rollouts include the SGI Altix 330, a NUMA-enabled server in a very small rackmount form factor, and the SGI InfinteStorage S330 storage array, priced at less than half of SGI's previous storage offerings.

These follow SGI's announcement in January, 2004 of the Altix 350 server, a more powerful yet more costly midrange server targeted at technical users in SGI's core vertical markets: higher education and research; media; defense intelligence; energy; and manufacturing.

With the Altix 330 and InfiniteStorage S330, SGI wants to step into some new market areas, too, according to Pham.

SGI expects to start shipping both the 330 and S330 in late summer or early fall of this year.

In contrast to SGI's higher-end systems, which are available both through VARs and directly from SGI's sales force, the new 330 and S330 will be sold only by resellers, said Mark Wiertalla, SGI's product marketing manager for storage.

These resellers will include long-time SGI VARs, along with enterprise resellers recruited through a new VAR program introduced earlier this year.

"This is exactly what SGI needed to come up with - relatively inexpensive, high performance systems, along with effective ways to getting (these products) out to customers," according to Byran McGaha, senior account manager at InterVision Systems Technology, a veteran SGI reseller in Santa Clara, CA.

"Up to now, the Linux market has been characterized by cheap machines which customers can buy and throw away at will. But users who want to run high performance apps require something that is unlikely to break, and which can be (quickly) fixed if it does," McGaha maintained, during another interview. Like the existing Altix 350, the upcoming 330 will come with a choice of either Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) or Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

Users opting for SUSE Linux will also get new SGI ProPack software, co-developed by SGI and SUSE to provide extra performance and functionality enhancements for SLES environments.

SGI is also pondering a ProPack for Red Hat, according to Pham. "But we've been working with SUSE on scalability stuff, anyway, so we thought we'd start with ProPack there," he added.

Most of these resellers will sell both Altix and InfiniteStorage systems, according to Wiertalla. "But we anticipate that there might be some pure 'storage plays,' too."

Customers will be able to connect the InfiniteStorage systems to PC servers from both SGI and other hardware vendors, he said. Although SGI's storage system is powered by Linux, it will also work with servers running either Linux or Microsoft Windows.

Pham said that, in the interests of better service and maintenance, SGI is avoiding Web-based sales, at least for now.

For fast delivery, though, SGI will offer the new Quick Ship option on two basic dual-processor configurations of the Altix 330, each providing a 160GB hard drive and 2GB of memory.

SGI will also customize the Quick Ship configurations to customer specifications, but delivery times might be longer for the customized systems.

Wiertalla told Linux Today that a plan similar to Quick Ship is in the works for the InfiniteStorage systems, tool, although the storage program has yet to be named.

Where will SGI's upcoming midmarket products fit best" InterVision's McGaha cited server farms, as well as other applications - such as AutoCad and EDA (electronic design automation) - that can take advantage of the NUMA architecture.

"I can't say that it's geared to OLTP, because 32-bit is what's playing there. But (NUMA) is very good at 'big processes' requiring high bandwidth," the reseller added.

HP will stack up as SGI's biggest competitor for Linux on Itanium, according to Ideas International's Partridge.

"IBM and Dell have also played there a bit, but IBM is more interested in its own PowerPC, and Dell is focusing mostly on X86 Xeon because of the volume that can provide," the analyst said.

Priced starting at under $7,000, the Altix 330 will use the same NUMAflex shared memory architecture and 6.4GB/s bidirectional interconnect as higher-end Altix systems.

The 330 will be sold with a choice of one or two Intel Itanium 2 processors, each running at 1.3 GHz to 1.6GHz, with on-chip cache of 3MB to 6MB.

Measuring just 1.75-inches high, the 330 is designed to fit into a single 1U slot on a rack. Users will be able to stack as many as 17 servers into a 17U rack and 39 servers into a 39U rack, according to the SGI execs.

The 330 is also designed to scale to up to 16 processors with NUMAlink, and to up to 128GB of memory.

The server has been clocked as sustaining data transfer rates of up to 485 MB/second for bandwidth-intensive apps such as seismic processing, used in scientific computing, and video streaming, used by media organizations, for instance.

The InfiniteStorage 330, on the other hand, is priced starting at $12,599. SGI's forthcoming new storage system will support s2.8TB to over 16TB of direct-attached storage (DAS), network-attached storage (NAS), or storage area network (SAN) capacity. SGI also plans to include software for performance monitoring and management.

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