SGI and Linux Accelerate Research Efforts at NASA Ames

SGI today announced that large-scale SGI Altix 3000 systems have once again generated breakthrough performance results on demanding scientific applications. Recent achievements include attaining record levels of sustained performance and scalability on a 256-processor global shared-memory SGI Altix 3000 system, the largest such system ever to run on the Linux operating system.The rest of the press release:

The breakthroughs were achieved at NASA Ames Research Center as part of an agency research program between Ames, Goddard Space Flight Center, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to accelerate the solution of large-scale problems in the earth sciences domain. To demonstrate the scalability and performance of the Altix system, NASA selected the ECCO (Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean) application, the product of a collaborative effort between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, NASA’s JPL, and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. ECCO’s importance is in improving the understanding of large-scale ocean dynamics by assimilating observational data gathered from satellites and in situ hydrographic measurements.

Running on NASA Ames’ 256-processor single system image, the ECCO ocean circulation model ran a one-quarter-degree global problem at a rate of 1.4 simulated years per wall clock day-the fastest ECCO result ever achieved on any system. “Working with the JPL team, the Altix system has enabled us to complete computations in ocean modeling involving terabytes of output at
record speeds,” said James Taft, president of Sienna Software, Inc. and currently a consultant at NASA Ames.

“Fueled by an unquenchable thirst for discovery, our partners at NASA are once again
staking new ground in computational science,” said Dave Parry, senior vice president and
general manager, Server and Platform Group, SGI. “Our relationship with NASA Ames
spans more than two decades, and today’s achievement with SGI Altix 3000 proves that
this remarkable collaboration continues to show the world what is possible with computing

As part of their testing and evaluation of the 256-processor Altix system, researchers at NASA said they have run more than 40 benchmarks used for system evaluations at the facility. The benchmarks include production computational fluid dynamics (CFD) codes, ocean and atmospheric circulation models, numerical analysis and other mission-relevant applications at NASA. The tests evaluated single processor performance, the parallel scaling of OpenMP, MPI, and MLP, as well as interference effects in large throughput scenarios. NASA reported that the SGI Altix system performed well on all tests, and yielded significant per-processor performance gains while maintaining scalability.

“The results we’ve been seeing are extraordinary for 256 processors,” said Taft. “For instance, the OVERFLOW CFD application has generated 200 GFLOPS of sustained performance with 256 processors, which is exactly twice the performance that NASA Ames team achieved with the first 128-processor Altix system – all without optimizing application code.”

NASA sought to implement a 256-processor shared-memory system because many key production codes have been optimized to run on such systems. Researchers reported that running their codes on a 256-processor shared-memory system has allowed the facility to see immediate scalability benefits with little or no porting or tuning. The Altix family of servers combines industry-standard 64-bit Linux with the Intel ® Itanium ® 2 processor family and SGI ® NUMAflex architecture to enable global shared memory systems from a few to hundreds of processors, which is a first for Linux OS-based computing. Powered by the third-generation NUMAflex supercomputing architecture, even the largest data sets can be handled and analyzed with ease and in record time.

Only the SGI Altix 3000 family of servers is designed around this scalable shared-memory architecture that analyzes data sets as whole entities, without breaking them up into smaller segments to be handled by individual processors. The Altix architecture has proven ideal both for complex shared-memory applications running on a large single system image, and for communication-intensive applications optimized for clustering.

“Clearly, the economic environment for large-scale systems continues to force designers to
amortize as much R&D as possible from broader horizontal markets. Now we have one
company integrating and creating the system memory interconnect, another providing the
processing elements, and the open-source community providing a substantial part of the
system software,” said Bob Ciotti, lead for the Tera-scale Application Group at NASA
Ames. “This type of arrangement is resulting in systems that are highly competitive in price
and performance for large-scale computation.”

While the achievement at NASA was driven to meet the facility’s own research objectives,
the announcement builds on the formal efforts of SGI and its customers to continue to
drive the scalability of the SGI Altix platform and of Linux itself. In August, the U.S. Naval
Research Laboratory (NRL) became the first SGI customer under its global beta program
to install a 128-processor single system image SGI Altix 3000 supercomputer. The
announcement came on the heels of the August launch of the global beta program, whose
participants, along with NRL and NASA Ames, include Oak Ridge National Laboratory in
Oak Ridge, Tenn., Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., the
University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, and The Computing Center at Johannes
Kepler University in Linz, Austria.

Scalable SGI Altix 3000 systems are available today in server configurations of 4 to 64
processors, and supercluster configurations of 4 to 256 processors. For customers
demanding even larger Altix superclusters, SGI plans to support configurations of 512
processors in October 2003 and 1,024 processors in May 2004. Additional Altix system
technical and availability information is posted on

Since its introduction in January, SGI Altix 3000 has been recognized as the first Linux
cluster that scales up to 64 processors within each node and the first cluster to allow global
shared-memory access across nodes. Inspired by the success of the SGI Altix family and
the powerful combination of standard Linux running on 64-bit Intel processors, more than
60 high-performance manufacturing, science, energy and environmental applications have
been ported by their commercial developers to the 64-bit Linux environment. Over two
thirds of these applications have certified and optimized their code for differentiated
performance on the Altix platform.

This news release contains forward-looking statements regarding SGI technologies and
third-party technologies that are subject to risks and uncertainties. These risks and
uncertainties could cause actual results to differ materially from those described in such
statements. The viewer is cautioned not to rely unduly on these forward-looking
statements, which are not a guarantee of future or current performance. Such risks and
uncertainties include long-term program commitments, the performance of third parties, the
sustained performance of current and future products, financing risks, the impact of
competitive markets, the ability to integrate and support a complex technology solution
involving multiple providers and users, the acceptance of applicable technologies by
markets and customers, and other risks detailed from time to time in the company’s most
recent SEC reports, including its reports on From 10-K and Form 10-Q.


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