Silicon Graphics Inc's latest strategy for survival banks on new high-end servers running under Linux and targeted at the highly-specialist needs of the technical and scientific marketplace.
The strategy is extremely risky according to analysts, but the struggling company, which many watchers believe is ripe for a takeover, said that a demonstration today of a simulated collision between two black holes, marked a number of public firsts: the first Itanium processor-based cluster; and the first technical computing applications to run on the IA-64 Linux platform.
George Weiss, vice president of research at Gartner Group remains sceptical. He said that SGI is attempting to recast itself as the high performance vendor for Linux: "But it faces an incredibly threatening future and this survival strategy is fraught with significant problems."
Weiss pointed out that SGI has well-established relationships with the scientific and technical community already:"But favouring Linux over Irix means convincing their installed base and new users that migrating from one environment to another will work and bring significant benefits."
"It is too abrupt a transformation," he continued.
It looks like SGI is putting all its eggs in the Linux/Intel basket and abandoning its reliance on MIPS chips and Irix.
Weiss added: "It is abandoning everything before for everything after. It has not had a strategy with staying power for the last 12-24 months."
Questions also hang over how SGI's need for cash will square with Linux's open source community rules.
Weiss said: "Will SGI charge for everything it adds on, or will it be part of the open source community, available for all? Will the clustering capability touch the kernel, in which case it will need official Linux sanctioning before it can be added to a future release."
IDC analyst Kirsten Ludvigsen said that SGI's strategy is a "gamble."If it beefs up Linux and follows the open source model, SGI must make benefits publicly available. It may have a short term advantage but in the long term it is a gamble."
SGI demonstrated a Linux cluster based on Intel's IA-64 Itanium processor at Supercomputing '99 in California, and John Vrolyk, senior vice president, product group, SGI, said at the demonstration: "SGI firmly believes open source software and industry standard components will lead to radical advances in high-performance computing."
He added: "From advanced, high-performance clustered systems to highly scalable, shared memory and vector systems, SGI solutions uniquely serve the specialised computing requirements across technical markets."
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