SGI releases mid-range Linux server

SGI hopes the use of supercomputing technologies in the Altix 350 will help propel it into the mid-range market, and even tempt some companies to look at it for running databases

Silicon Graphics on Monday brought its Linux servers into the mid-range, unveiling the Altix 350 model that will bring the Itanium-based line into the sub-£10,000 price bracket.

The maker of high-end computers and storage systems introduced its Linux server line a year ago with the release of the 64-processor Altix 3000. Prices for the new Altix 350 server will start at £8,883 for a dual-processor version, said UK marketing director John Masters. A four-processor model will cost approximately twice that, at £15,365, and support up to 192GB of memory. The Altix 350 system expands to 16 processors, and uses the same SGI Advanced Linux that the Altix-3000 line uses, meaning that applications written for the high-end servers will run on the mid-range versions without modification, said Masters.

However, while users of the Altix 3000 are primarily confined to the government, defence, scientific, educational and gas/oil markets, SGI is hoping that the price and IO performance of the 350 will tempt new customers to try it out for more mainstream applications such as database work.

"There is an obvious aptitude for databases," said Masters. "We are in the process of certifying all leading database applications for the 350, simply because they tend to be IO intensive."

The Altix line is strategically important for SGI, a technical computing specialist that has been struggling to recover for years from a failed bid to expand into the mainstream server market. Its core customer base typically uses computers with SGI's own MIPS processors and the Irix version of the Unix operating system. Moving to Intel's Itanium chips and to Linux offers the company a chance to reduce its research and development expenses.

Among the Altix 350's competitors are IBM's p650, an eight-processor system with a starting price of about $27,000 (£15,000) for a dual-processor configuration; Hewlett-Packard's four-processor rx5670, with a starting price of about $22,000; and Sun Microsystems' V880z, an eight-processor machine with a starting price of about $60,000.

The higher-end Altix 3000 comes in 64-processor configurations today, with a 128-processor model expected in the spring of 2004. Customers can special order Altix 3000 systems with as many as 512 Itanium 2 processors.

SGI has been under a financial cloud, but its stock rose recently after it restructured its debt and reported financial results that have shown it nearer to profitability.

The Altix line will allow SGI to cater for the section of the market that analysts say is burgeoning. SGI believes it can offer technology that commodity servers cannot, primarily in the form of its NUMAflex shared memory architecture, which allows all processors to work on a single memory image simultaneously, and NUMAlink interconnects.'s Stephen Shankland contributed to this report