This week OSNews spoke to Addison Snell, a Product Marketing Manager at SGI. The legendary computer maker has been through some tumultuous times in the last few years but seems ready to make a healthy resurgence. Two weeks ago they hosted their Global Developer Conference in San Francisco. This is the first of a number of conversations OSNews will be hosting about SGI.1. Can you tell us what was the focus of the SGI World Developer Conference?
Addison Snell: The big thing that we were stressing at the Conference was SGI?s long term commitment to IRIX on MIPS. That lost a lot of attention externally, never internally, mind you. Recently a lot of vendors have been moving away from their RISC platforms, and moving towards an Intel platform. We think that a lot of people are losing focus on where their customers are at currently and what direction they want to head in.
2. The conference was also an opportunity to introduce Visual Area Networking (VAN). What is VAN?
Addison Snell: Well the general trend that we?ve seen is Moore?s Law, or the doubling of computer power on a fairly predictable schedule. At the same time bandwidth demands have grown, and data-sets have also been growing fantastically. Ten years ago if you were building a car there were maybe 10 000 elements that had to be considered and calculated. Today, that?s grown a 1000 fold to 10 000 000 elements. However bandwidth availability hasn?t grown at nearly that rate. By comparison, computer screen resolution has improved over the last 10 years, but not comparably.
Visual Area Networking (VAN) allows you to send pictures of the data, rather than send the data. Which is a much more efficient use of bandwidth. So a geologist in the field can access data on the company?s supercomputer from a hand held computer.
3. What was the makeup of the conference?
Addison Snell: Developers mostly. We get a lot of ISVs (independent software vendors) there from the different fields that we serve, technical and creative. But, ‘custom’ is our number one application. So it was a diverse field. But some notable attendees included
TrueSAN Networks, and many more.
4. Where does the conference fit in a larger scheme for SGI?
Addison Snell: The conference, and the developer program, are investments by SGI into the IRIX developer community. SGI is facilitating growth with these developers by making it easy to develop innovative applications on IRIX. This “growth” undoubtedly has effects on other communities. Companies are able to expand their business by working with SGI and learning how to effectively innovate with IRIX. It is also important to consider that the developers we are investing in include, hobbyists, educational institutions, small ISVs, and other companies.
5. Would you describe this as MacWorld for SGI?
Addison Snell: That?s a good analogy. Our customers are primarily also developers. Our focus was on product development and reassuring our customers about our long-term focus. Also a lot of good work is done at these functions in the technical breakout sessions where some of the best minds share ideas about optimizing code for best scalability. We?ve also included special events, product showcases, and at the end of the day the chance to hang out with SGI product engineers. Or, ?have a beer with an engineer.?
6. What?s the typical first time exposure to IRIX for a developer?
Addison Snell: I?ve had the chance to meet with a lot of customers, people who are now a company director or researcher for a large oil-company or something. And they say that they?re really happy to be able to code with SGI. That they?d first had exposure in the college and the SGI was the coolest thing in the lab. They?re glad to get to use it for programming now.
7. Is that the enduring appeal of SGI? It?s popularity with developers?
Addison Snell: We?ve had a lot of customers that have been with SGI for a long time, either continually or on and off. It?s neat being in this market; there?s no end to how tough a problem these guys can come up with. We could come out with a computer tomorrow that was 10 times as powerful and they could come out with problems that could outpace it. That?s why our customers and products are different from the general server market and companies like IBM or Compaq.
What I would say is that IBM, HP and Sun in the general server space work to optimize an ERP solution or payroll system. Whereas with our customers scalability and optimizing performance are paramount. We have that focus a lot more.
SGI isn?t the only company in the field, there?s CRAY , which is focused on supercomputing and Concurrent who?s focused in the media serving space. But in high performance systems for visualization and massive scalability, we are unique. In fact, we are the hugest vendor in this small market.
8. You?ve got a fairly diverse group of customers. How do you resolve this?
Addison Snell: You mean, what does a new media advertising jockey and a chemist in a lab-coat have in common? In the industries that we address, government (defense), oil&gas exploration, telco, science and entertainment, the first thing you notice is that SGI is being used at the core of the business. An automaker might have a large network of computers for all sorts of functions, but SGI is what they use to design and build cars with wind-tunnel simulations and such. A government customer might use SGI products for intelligence gathering, but not to run the payroll functions.
So, what do these customers have in common? They each have intellectual property, or smart people who know things. And SGI allows them to build models for their IP.
When Bob Bishop was introducing Visual Area Networking at the Developer Conference he said, “SGI bridges the gap between having superior information and making better decisions.”
9. SGI is synonymous with advances in movie visual effects.
Addison Snell: It?s what we?re most well known for, but it?s the smallest revenue segment of our business, in comparison to DoD. Interestingly, we?ve taken the functionality that we?ve picked up in movies and entertainment and transferred it to defense customers. Our earliest customer was the Department of Defense using our flight simulators. I?d like to say that we at SGI are very proud of our role in national security.
10. Can you give us a specific example?
Addison Snell: We?ll create some new visual effect for Hollywood, which in turn will allow us to help create a better battlefield simulation. Hollywood folks are very concerned with how things look from a distance, determining at what point your eye notices objects in a field and at what point are things noticed as discrete. The work has been done to ensure that it doesn?t become visible before you would notice them naturally. You can probably see how important that would be in a tank simulator and such. Now a helicopter pilot can train in a simulator with exactly the same geography of the area that he would encounter in the real world. A pilot can run a practice mission in the simulator over terrain generated from yesterday?s satellite imagery. It?s a powerful tool.
11. SGI supports Linux as well as IRIX. Is there a flow of benefits between the two?
Addison Snell: Absolutely. A lot of work has been happening in scalable Linux systems. But we don?t see that taking away from IRIX. What IRIX has that other operating systems doesn?t is sophisticated real time capabilities. IRIX users also benefit from a very mature development environment, and a long history of 64 bit computing.
12. Excellent. When is the next Developer Conference?
Addison Snell: SGI is committed and looking forward to our next major event for the developer community, the 2003 Global Developer Conference. Exact location and dates are still under negotiation. It is worthy to mention that SGI just completed two developer conferences in a 11 month period but our goal is to conduct this key event once a year (every 12 months). We will also have several more intimate events throughout the year and the world including ‘matchmaking’ an invitational event for approximately 20 developers that wish to expand their markets geographically; meet with SGI distributors in a region to develop business plans (EMEA is planned for the summer with ICON in the fall). In addition, in August we plan to hold two invitation only corporate visits where SGI senior engineering and marketing will present the SGI FY03 strategy and roadmap to our developers. As these plans develop, further details will be communicated to our developer community at large.
“It is also important to consider that the developers we are
investing in include, hobbyists, educational institutions, small ISVs, and other companies.”
Great artical, I have loved SGI for a long time. However what bugs me is this. Everone knows that getting college kids hooked on products transated to future bizness, as he mentioned in the artical. But as i recal last time SGI came to my school they didn’t bother to even come to the CS dept. (just went over the the math dept) and for that matter didn’t even let students in the trailer. (however i got around that and got to play)
Our school has (i should say had) lots of Indy boxes, and my first few years thats where i spent most of my time (i could write a artical on all the security holes in irix )
And with the uprize of powerful multi platform based unix’s (read fBSD & x86) uni’s like mine nolonger see the value in buying these types of computers. The last time I sat at a SGI box was when a friend (SGI employee) brought his brand new (befor release) O2 back to school to work on his PHD. And a year ago when i walked though the CS labs i found that the old SGI lab is now beeing used as a store room (with the now unusabel indys still in there)
I know SGI doesn’t care about this 1% or its total sales. And they don’t care that people like me get mad at them for it. But if they are gona bring it up in a artical they should at least know how pissed some of us are about there lack of ‘friendlyness’ to CS majors.
Ok ok .. maybe this is just my school, i know we are cheep but hey.
anyway i would still give a body part to have one sitting on my desk, although after uing the BeAPI for so long going back to writeing motif code sounds like shooting myself in the head
The pressure in most colleges is to use general-purpose computers
throughout, which means Windows machines.
It makes purchasing easier, support is needed only for one OS, and
class rooms can be used for teaching any subject.
There is usually a big fight needed even to get a room full of Macs
for the Design department. The money people can’t see why anyone would
want to use some weird kind of computer when a standard PC is cheap
and does everything (they think).
Some of them find it hard to understand why you might need any extra
software other than Office.
At the school I went to its almost the same with windows machines. 9 out of the 10 student computer labs are macs and the one that ran windows has been half converted to linux. Basically my school did the backward ass play to the minority thing (common there, they have as much vegan and vegitarian food as “regular” food in the res dinning halls).
Well, luckly the CS dept just put in a new PC lab with fBSD on them. Which is the first real time students had access to a fbsd lab (first time is when i took over a old room next to my office and converted a bunch of 486’s)
However the big tragity is in the education of new students. Its gone way down hill. When I took my parallel programing class we used parallaxis and MPI (and did true multi proc parallel programing) We also did a small game of life in java.
Now days from what i have heard they don’t do anything but Java Threads. And they realy don’t do a good job at that.
Also we used to have this great program for digital design. (forget the name but it did everthing) I remeber sitting in the SGI lab for hours designing our CPU’s for class .. now days they dont do any of that. I dont think they design anything at all .. its more of just a lectur class now How sad.
Most students have no idea what those light blue boxes are shoved in the corner. And almost of them have never used a unix befor … truely a sad situation.
I don’t know if I buy that parallel processing with threads is any less pure than parellel processing with MPI. For doing Beowulf clusters and things of this sort, MPI is a must for cross-node communication. This is of course because even the most robust PC will only have eight processors. More likely, they will have one or two. Furthermore, cross-node communicatinon suffers on PC’s due to memory latency and bandwidth problems. The programmer will therefore have to do explicit memory transfer operations very quickly.
On high end supercomputers, the system memory architecture allows for much more scaling in the number of processors. This means that the programmer can stay in the world of multi-threading, and leave the processing distrubition to the operating system. Eventually, even these systems will need explicit message passing, but that limit is at a much higher level.
Furthermore, the problem with moving one’s thinking from serial to parellal processing is the same whether it is being done from threads or using MPI. Fragmenting the problem into parallel tasks and then worrying about data synchronization between those tasks will be very similar between the two. The one thing that will be lost by not ever studying explicit message passing, is efficient coding of cross node memory passing. Since the OS is making the entire system look like one memory block for multi-threaded parallel processing, there may not be any explicit memory transfers between nodes. However this type of scenario can still come up in the world of multi-threaded parallel processing, if data local to the thread object needs to be passed into another thread object.
That’s not to say that your department hasn’t gone downhill. I’m just stating that your blanket statement on parallel processing may not be true.
I agree, they still use the same basic concepts of CS useing both Threads and multi Node processing. However my point was not the tech aspect of it .. i was comenting more on the ‘required learning’ involved in useing Java Threads over writing more complex code. Java seems to be more padded is good for teaching 100 level students about OO.. but for doing parallel we should provide ‘real’ systems to use. Students can uses Java on there PC at home, they will never get access to a 15node cluster to just write some programs on. This in a invaluable tool. Plus if you can do it the hard way (multi node) then you can also do it the easy way (java). In most cases
As for “anonymous” ….
Well, my spelling is bad .. well its actually worse than that ..some of it comes from my lazyness and some of it comes from the basic fact that i got my B and D all mix up at a young age (maybe dislecsic <- didn’t spell that right i bet )
As for my source code comments… Well, i try to keep them at least looking like english works. That way i can mostly tell what i was trying to say when i wrote it.
I realy dont care about my spelling (and it shows) The only draw back is that most people think i am a 12year old from some other country, which mostly causes people to ingnore 90% of what i say.
In the long run however .. I let my CODE speek for itself. I think the apps that i have writen are better than any resume or writen paper i could come up with.
If it bugs you that much, sorry.
Maybe someone should write a WebSpellchecker for message boards
If you were using MacOS X, you’d have spell checking right in your web forms – actually you’d have it in any text box, at any time.
Ahh I love MacOS’s Services….
> If it bugs you that much, sorry.
Yikes. Sorry there ynop. I didn’t mean to be rude. I was just trying to do a little sparring but I blew it. Judging by your impressive list of apps on bebits
I’d, of course, be grateful to read your source code comments any day of the week!