SGI SPECIAL: Interviewing SGI Employees

For our special SGI day, that is today, OSNews sent a number of questions to SGI regarding the company’s products and a number of different people replied for this interview. We hope that this interview will familiarize more people with SGI, their products and their strategy.1. What kind of interaction there is between X, the kernel and OpenGL. We have heard about some really nifty “tricks” that the OS does to speed up GL as much as possible.

SGI: SGI systems support “virtualized direct access rendering”. For optimal performance graphics programs can by pass the X protocol and render directly to the graphics hardware. Each program desiring direct access requests a rendering node from the operating system, which consists of a virtualized bank of graphics registers mapped into the program’s address space. Before using its rendering node, the program binds the rendering node to an X window. The operating system via virtual memory takes the responsibility of virtualizing access to the graphics registers.

Additionally, the kernel performs various tricks for smart scheduling of graphics processes, fast readback and hardware cursor tracking.

2. Tell us about the Disk Cache implemented on IRIX. It seems to be a file cache and not a block cache, which is a bit unusual.

SGI: Disk Cache is a block cache, but can also be accessed via file cache.

3. How would an SGI graphics workstation (not a heavy multi-processor server) compares in performance and feature set to, let’s say, a 2 Ghz Pentium4 with WindowsXP and a GeForce 3 500 Ti today?

SGI: First of all, the GeForce product line is designed specifically for the gaming market, which is not a market that SGI targets with its workstation products. Our workstations are designed for advanced visualization and mission-critical production in the key markets SGI serves: government and defense, the sciences, manufacturing, energy, and media.

A key strength for Silicon Graphics visual workstations is the binary compatibility with the SGI 3000 family series products, as well as the flexibility and reliability of the IRIX operating system.

With regard to Intel based products, it is important to remember the total value and differentiated capabilities that our IRIX based workstations offer. Silicon Graphics visual workstations are designed with the hallmarks of SGI expertise: big bandwidth, customized architecture, balanced I/O and advanced visualization. Workstations from SGI are not designed for price war competition in a commodity market.

When comparing a Silicon Graphics visual workstation with lower cost, less differentiated products, consider the value of the system in the context of the customer’s total workflow and solution requirements. The reliability, scalability and extensibility of the mature 64-bit IRIX operating system confer advantages on our systems that are not available on other operating systems, or even other flavors of UNIX. The broad suite of specialized applications, the rich supporting APIs and software libraries, and the binary compatibility with our unparalleled advanced systems are all advantages of deploying on IRIX. In addition, Silicon Graphics workstations keep our customers on the crest of innovation as we continue to break new ground in the industry. For example, in Visual Area Networking, Silicon Graphics Octane2 and Silicon Graphics Fuel visual workstations can function as visual servers to systems on other platforms. This revolutionary Vizserving capability is not available on other desktop systems.

Finally, remember that the advanced graphics and digital media capabilities, such as the 48-bit RGBA and the high-definition (HD) video capabilities on that are offered on Silicon Graphics Fuel and Silicon Graphics Octane2 are not offered on any other workstation platform.

4. Sun tries to enter new markets, by offering low-end server products like the Blade 100 for only $1000 USD. Does SGI have interest in pursuing such a market?

SGI: SGI has targeted markets for growth, but not in the low-end commodity computer market. As the world’s leader in high-performance computing, visualization, and the management of complex data we are committed to developing and delivering products, services, and solutions that enable technical and creative customers to gain strategic and competitive advantages in their core businesses. The company sells and services five key market segments: government and defense, the sciences, manufacturing, energy, and media. Within those markets we have identified these growth sectors: production workflow in the media industry, medical data management in sciences, and homeland security within the government sector. One of the solutions that we offer that ties back to your question about low-cost hardware is the Visual Area Network. With this solution, SGI extends its high-end visualization capabilities to networks of commodity products.

5. Reportedly, the SONY PS2 uses an 128bit MIPS derivative. It is also a fact that MIPS used to be an SGI company once and SONY even ships Linux for their MIPS CPU. What are your thoughts about this?

SGI: Yes, MIPS was once wholly owned by SGI. Because the company is committed to delivering highly differentiated systems as quickly as possible, the companies merged to bring the processor and system engineering teams physically side by side. Just as the company has developed an operating system to meet the stringent and demanding requirements of its customers, this combined effort enabled the company to reduce cycles – to not have to wait for a third party to develop a general purpose chip or OS that it would then have to optimize for its NUMA architecture.

Regarding Linux on MIPS-based systems: MIPS customers require exceptional performance, a mature and secure operating environment and sustained compute power. SGI’s customers interested in Linux are intrigued by the potential of the Itanium-based environment for maximum peak performance on a breadth of applications and scalability. The breadth of SGI servers will address these specific requirements and deliver optimal results based on SGI’s well-established scalable technical compute architecture.

Also…although there is much anticipation of the new processor, we certainly don’t anticipate migrating our existing customers from the MIPS platform to Itanium. Rather, we intend to build a complement of operating environments that best suit our customers’ high performance computing requirement.

6. Is there a port of IRIX under development for the Intel Itanium CPU? What can you tell us about how SGI perceives the Itanium architecture and design? — What’s the party line on this one?

SGI: There is no port in development or planned for IRIX on the Intel Itanium 2 microarchitecture at this time. SGI’s Itanium 2 based utilize the Linux operating system, and thus far we have been very pleased with the stability and scalability that Linux has provided us on this platform.

SGI has been very impressed by the overall performance the combination of SGI’s modular NUMAflex architecture and Intel’s Itanium 2 processor.
We see no advantage to anyone to offer a new version of IRIX for open source –

7. What the future holds for IRIX? Can you tell us about new features that users are awaiting for a future release?

SGI: We continue innovate and refine features in IRIX to best support technical and creative users. Future enhancements are in the areas of scalability for servers, updated compilers and software development tools, standards support for c99 by end of 2002 and UNIX98 certification in first half 2003, and more enhancements to further improve application performance. SGI also continues our quarterly updates of IRIX and Trusted IRIX and our bi-quarterly updates of WorldView Localization releases.

OSNews recently posted an additional SGI interview, with Greg Estes, SGI’s VP of Corporate Marketing.


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