SGI has fleshed out its plans for Linux by announcing that it will offer a range of Linux server machines at the end of September and open source more of its proprietary technology.
Jim Irving, SGI's UK workstations director, said that SGI plans, "a family of high performance and very resilient Linux systems [that] will be Intel based servers aimed at the volume market, designed to compete at the core of the Dell/Compaq marketplace."
SGI had already announced plans to offer Linux as a third operating system alongside Irix and NT. The company cited three reasons: "The lower cost of ownership associated with PC economics, the large application availability and the reliability and stability afforded by the Linux operating system."
The company said it planned a long term commitment to Linux on Intel architecture through its cooperation with VA Research on a Merced port of Linux.
"We will be running the NT and Linux product families side by side," Irving said. "Anything we do with NT, we will do with Linux as well. The operating systems will be factory installed, and the hardware will be the same price, so the differentiator will be the licence fee."
Irving would not specify pricing, but subtracting the price of Windows NT 4 with five client access licences from the price of a Visual Workstation 320 would make the new Linux boxes start at about $2,759 (€2,668).
The feature set for the Linux boxes will include software that SGI has already contributed to Linux, Irving said, such as improvements to the TCP/IP stack, patches to prevent denial of service and upgrades to the network file system.
SGI has also released its XFS 64bit, journaled file system for Linux, designed to improve Linux's enterprise capabilities. Irving said XFS would be included in the next major Linux kernel release.
SGI also will add support for Samba on SGI's Origin line, to ensure network interoperability between Linux and Irix.
SGI has also been working with the Linux kernel team to add support for its OpenGL graphics libraries to the OS, Irving said. There are already patches for the 2.2 kernel that would allow Linux to be run on SGI Visual Workstations.
SGI recently announced agreements with Intel to support SGI's graphics architecture on Intel's chipsets. Announcements about an accelerated OpenGL graphics environment for Linux are expected at Siggraph 99, an annual graphics industry show.
Irving predicted that Linux would end up dominating the volume market: "In Silicon Valley, every second advertising hoarding is for Linux. Irix will be protected because it doesn't play in the volume market. But the percentage share of proprietary Unix will be severely impacted within five years.
"There will come a point where the expense of staying in the niche market outweighs the benefit of maintaining that niche, and at that point we'll make a business decision," he added.
Irving hinted that the "business decision" could include the option of open sourcing Irix's technology. He also said SGI could merge Irix into its high end Cray OS, Unicos.
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