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SGI Boosting Linux to 128 Processors

Who said Linux can only be used for smaller enterprise tasks?

Mountain View, Calif.'s SGI Tuesday revealed that its high-performance servers will soon employ 128 processors in a single instance of running Linux in the hopes of testing the limits of the open-source operating system for eventual commercial use.

SGI, which already provides Linux-based Altix 3000 systems that scale to 64 Intel Itanium 2 processors, intends to test 128-processor systems in customer laboratories. Results are expected in early September.

Participants in the global program include the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington DC and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington, the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, and The Computing Center at Johannes Kepler University in Linz, Austria.

The program parties conduct sophisticated research in a number of scientific fields, including computational fluid dynamics, climate/weather/oceans modeling and simulation, computational chemistry and materials.

Their work requires massive scalability at levels that can reveal stress loads on the 128-processor system prior to its commercial availability as a standard SGI product. Interestingly, SGI could eventually lure such organizations to its fold if they can bring such commercial high-performance Linux computing to the fore.

It is common for such organizations conducting tests in life sciences, astronomy or meteorology to tab companies such as SGI or high-performance computing rivals IBM , Cray , HP and Sun Microsystems for massive computers that perform tasks as fast as teraflops. However, most of those, which require several processors, depend on the Unix operating system to execute.

SGI's news Tuesday, announced in the thick of LinuxWorld Conference and Expo 2003, is an example of how companies are increasingly finding ways to bring Linux to bear for huge projects to save money while at the same time boosting return-on-investment, an all-important requirement at a time when IT dollars are scarce.

IBM and Fujitsu have previously announced Linux-based supercomputers. Moreover, Dell said Tuesday the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) plans to use more than 1,450 Dell servers in a Linux supercomputer. SGI's latest project is an extension of the upscale Linux trend.

Apparently, customers have already been asking for such Linux-oriented machines.

"SGI customers are constantly pushing the limits of computing," said Jan Silverman, senior vice president and general manager, Industry Solutions and Services, SGI. "As soon as we launched the Altix 3000 family they asked when we would scale a single system to 128 processors. With their assistance, we are responding to their need for more processing power and all the benefits of NUMA-based computing combined with the benefits of the Linux operating system."

The Altix 3700 supercluster is largely acknowledged as the first Linux cluster to scale to 64 processors within a single node and the first cluster to allow global shared-memory access across nodes. Developers have ported more than 60 commercially available high-performance manufacturing, science, energy and environmental applications to the 64-bit Linux environment.

SGI Altix 3000 servers and superclusters supporting the new 128-processor node size are expected to be available for commercial use in spring of 2004.