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Minnesota Supercomputing Institute Targets More Interactive Research with New SGI Cluster


On any given day, hundreds of researchers may vie for access to the computing systems housed at the University of Minnesota Supercomputing Institute for Digital Simulation and Advanced Computation. Even with some 2,000 processors at its disposal, the institute has sometimes struggled to keep up with growing demand.

Now, a massive new cluster solution from SGI (NASDAQ: SGIC) will help ensure that current and emerging generations of processor-hungry applications won’t slow down Minnesota scientists and engineers.

The 2,048-core SGI® Altix® XE 1300 cluster, expected to be installed this month, will transform the familiar submit-and-wait research experience into a vastly more interactive and productive one. By distributing complex applications across hundreds or thousands of the Altix XE cluster’s processors, researchers will be able to complete calculations faster, run more iterations of a problem in less time, and refine their conclusions more quickly and effectively than ever before.

“This is an exciting and important acquisition for the Minnesota scientific community,” said H. Birali Runesha, director, scientific computing and applications at the institute. “With the Altix XE cluster, we can push the capability of applications that once were running on a small number of cores. Now it will be easier to scale jobs and achieve faster turn-around times. In fact, it might become routine to see applications scaled across 1,000 cores or more.”

For some researchers, the new cluster will revolutionize their productivity. “This new system, with its dramatically faster job turn-arounds, will enable studies that we just can’t pursue today,” added Runesha.

Outfitted with more than 4 terabytes of memory across 256 compute nodes, Minnesota’s new Altix XE cluster will drive research in physical, biological, medical, mathematical and computing sciences, in addition to engineering studies and academic-industry collaboration.

For example, increasingly complex computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and astrophysics applications will now be able to leverage so many processors that engineers can interact with simulations on the university’s 8-foot-by-6-foot PowerWall from the Laboratory for Computational Science and Engineering. With the Altix XE cluster bearing the computational workload and feeding results to the PowerWall’s visualization system, researchers can, for instance, adjust various parameters and assumptions as they employ a grid of more than 6 billion cells to simulate entrainment of unburned hydrogen fuel into the convection zone above the helium burning shell in a dying giant star.

This interactivity brings a new dimension to research, enabling scientists to experience breakthroughs at the speed of thought instead of waiting through multiple iterations of generating new scenarios, running batch simulations and visualizing their results.

“A cluster this extensive will help Minnesota researchers pursue the kind of cutting-edge science required to write strong grant proposals for the National Science Foundation and other important sources of funding,” added Runesha. “No longer will these researchers be limited by their resources.”

Minnesota Goes Quad-Core with Altix XE
Working with SGI and James River Technical, Inc., SGI’s designated partner for higher education and research, institute administrators selected the Altix XE solution, based on Quad-Core Intel® Xeon® processors, after evaluating cluster solutions from multiple providers. From the outset, Minnesota targeted Linux® cluster solutions to augment their installed base of large-scale supercomputers and servers. “No matter how large your systems, with enough users running enough applications,” explained Runesha, “it’s still possible to run out of processors.”

To pinpoint the best-performing solution, Minnesota ran a customized benchmark suite that measured capabilities vital to a range of scientific and engineering applications. The suite tested functions used in well-known software — such as GAMESS (General Atomic and Molecular Electronic Structure System) for computational chemistry, and BLAST (Basic Local Alignment Search Tool) for life sciences — along with several in-house codes. The benchmark results showed that the Quad-Core Altix XE 1300 system delivered superior price/performance overall compared to Dual-Core systems, while minimizing the need for additional infrastructure.

SGI’s ability to provide a full Double Data Rate (DDR) interconnect in a non-blocking topology also provides an edge to researchers. Non-blocking solutions maximize the performance of systems used by multiple users and applications. That’s an important advantage for the institute, which currently serves some 2,000 users.

“Large, shared-memory Altix systems are fixtures at leading research institutions, including the University of Minnesota,” said Bill Mannel, director of systems marketing, SGI. “But with multi-core SGI Altix XE clusters, even the most cost-conscious institutions can afford unique SGI technology, expertise and support, while pursuing a classic ‘scale-out’ cluster strategy.” The water-cooled Altix XE cluster also lowers the cost of owning and operating the cluster in an environment already dense with computing systems. “Since our facility, like many others across the country, is approaching either power or cooling limits, the SGI water-cooled option was very attractive to us,” said Brian Ropers-Huilman, director, systems and operations at the institute.

Minnesota’s system also is linked via a high-bandwidth InfiniBand connection and runs SUSE® Linux Enterprise Server 10 from Novell®. The SGI Altix XE server and cluster platform offers superior performance and energy efficiency at a breakthrough price point. Unlike other cluster offerings, SGI Altix XE combines the advanced Intel Xeon processor architecture delivered in a fully factory integrated cluster solution and backed by SGI’s industry-leading service and support. The Altix XE platform delivers leading density without sacrificing performance or functionality. “We are very excited about the selection and installation of an Altix XE system of this magnitude at the University of Minnesota, ” said Tom Mountcastle, president, James River Technical. “Over the years, Minnesota has continued to be at the forefront of technology implementations designed to expedite research and time to discovery. They have a clear understanding of the tools that are needed in their scientific community and the Altix XE will serve them well in this pursuit.”

SGI | Innovation for Results™
SGI (NASDAQ: SGIC) is a leader in high-performance computing. SGI delivers a complete range of high-performance server and storage solutions along with industry-leading professional services and support that enable its customers to overcome the challenges of complex data-intensive workflows and accelerate breakthrough discoveries, innovation and information transformation. SGI solutions help customers solve their computing challenges whether it’s enhancing the quality of life through drug research, designing and manufacturing safer and more efficient cars and airplanes, studying global climate, providing technologies for homeland security and defense, or helping enterprises manage large data. With offices worldwide, the company is headquartered in Sunnyvale, Calif., and can be found on the Web at

SGI, Altix, the SGI cube and the SGI logo are registered trademarks of SGI in the United States and/or other countries worldwide. Novell and SUSE are registered trademarks of Novell, Inc. in the United States and other countries. Linux is a registered trademark of Linus Torvalds in the U.S. and other countries. Intel and Xeon are trademarks or registered trademarks of Intel Corporation or its subsidiaries in the United States and other countries. All other trademarks mentioned herein are the property of their respective owners.

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 reader 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 ability to integrate and support a complex technology solution involving multiple providers and users, and other risks detailed from time to time in the company’s most recent SEC reports, including its reports on Form 10-K and Form 10-Q.


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