New SGI modular server already has federal users

New SGI modular server already has federal users

Research centers are finding the new computers, built with rackmount units, useful for simulations

By Patricia Daukantas

GCN Staff

NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., last month took delivery of a 32-processor beta version of SGI's new, high-end Origin 3000 and has ordered a 1,024-processor version for aerodynamic and environmental simulations.

The Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. also has been using a 32-processor beta Origin 3000 since early last month, NRL spokeswoman Janice Schwartz said.

SGI designed its Origin 3000 and Onyx 3000 servers and graphics computers for computationally intensive research and visualization. Instead of symmetric multiprocessing, they share local memory among clusters of processors in a nonuniform memory access architecture called NUMAflex.


SGI's high-end Origin 3000 is designed to run intensive research and visualization programs.


The new computers are built out of seven types of 19-inch-wide rackmount units that SGI calls bricks. The bricks have initials corresponding to their functions.

For example, each C-brick, or CPU brick, has two to eight 400-MHz Mips R12000 RISC processors or 500-MHz R14000 processors, plus up to 8G of synchronous dynamic RAM.

An I-brick supplies interfaces such as one 100Base-T and two Universal Serial Bus ports, plus serial and Fibre Channel interfaces and five PCI slots.

A D-brick has 12 hot-plug drive bays that can store 18G to 73G. The P-brick and X-brick are input/output expansion modules containing, respectively, 12 PCI slots and four of SGI's proprietary high-performance XIO slots.

A G-brick provides SGI InfiniteReality3 graphics and can be configured with one or two graphics pipelines that each have two to eight display channels.

By stacking bricks of different types, users can customize machines for applications such as computational fluid dynamics, signal processing or media distribution, said Ben Passarelli, SGI's director of advanced systems product management.

Eventually the company will expand the Origin and Onyx systems' capacity to 2,048 processors, Passarelli said. The systems come with 16G to 1T of memory and run SGI's proprietary Irix 6.5 operating system. They are 100 percent binary-compatible with their predecessors, the Origin 2000 and Onyx 2000, Passarelli said.

Superstar computers

Two of the government's 10 fastest computers, the Blue Mountain and Nirvana systems at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, are Origin 2000 systems. The government has 16 other Origin 2000 computers ranked on the worldwide top 500 list of supercomputers [GCN, June 12, Page 61], including seven devoted to classified purposes.

Bill Feiereisen, chief of the Numerical Aerospace Simulation Systems Division at NASA Ames, said his group already has a 512-processor SGI Origin 2000. Ranking 70th fastest in the world, it crunches numbers for aircraft design, climate modeling and computational biology.

Though their goals are diverse, all the simulations require lots of interprocessor communication, Feiereisen said.

NASA Ames engineers have developed an extension to the OpenMP industry standard for multithreaded software development, which they call multilevel parallelism, that substantially speeds up many simulation codes running on SGI machines.

Another factor in the NASA center's decision to order the 1,024-processor Origin 3000 is that it will fit in the crowded computer center, Feiereisen said.

'If it had been twice the size of the 512 [Origin 2000], we wouldn't have room for it,' he said.

Edwards Air Force Base in California has ordered a 64-processor Origin 3000, said Peter von Klargaard, director of the base's High-Performance Computing Office.

Though Edwards is known for flight testing aircraft, the base is branching out into computer simulations to reduce the risk and cost of flying ever-more-complex fighter jets, von Klargaard said.

A novice situation

'We are real rookies' at simulation, he said. Edwards got $3.6 million in fiscal 2000 funding from the Defense Department's High-Performance Computing Modernization Program to buy two 24-processor Onyx 2000 visualization systems, followed by the 64-processor Origin 3000 now on order.

There was no real competition to the Onyx systems in terms of high-end visualization, von Klargaard said. Edwards officials also liked having a common operating system and maintenance contract for the large computers.

The Origin 3000 starts around $50,000 with two processors. Prices for systems having more than 128 CPUs are determined through bidding.

Contact SGI Federal at 301-572-1980.

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