SGI goes "universal" with new compute trailer, adds bring your own gear option

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This week SGI announced a new twist on their racks-in-a-trailer solution, ICE Cube ‘Universal’. In the bad old days before the Universal ICE Cube, you were fairly limited with what you could get SGI to slot into their modular computing solution. With today’s announcement, however, not only can you get all the server-oriented kit that SGI makes in a trailer, you can also bring your own

SGI containerUniversal containers open the door for ICE Cube to easily support all SGI server and storage systems, including Altix ICE, Altix UV, Rackable, COPAN and InfiniteStorage lines, in addition to heterogeneous, third-party systems. The company’s long-established Dual Row class of ICE Cube has also been enhanced to better support heterogeneous equipment.

“Our new Universal ICE Cube data centers extend SGI’s leadership in modular data center innovation, allowing us to offer our customers greater flexibility in design and deployment,” said Rick Chapek, SGI senior vice president of hardware engineering. “SGI can now offer targeted ICE Cube configurations across vertical markets that span technical computing, federal government and defense, oil and gas, and Internet, meeting customer specific application and deployment needs.”

The speeds and feeds of your fully loaded container will obviously vary with what you put in it, but SGI says you can get up to 46,080 cores and 29.8 petabytes (PB) of storage in its Universal Class container, and get your PUE down to a limbo-contest-winning 1.12. And SGI says that its added two new Dual Row ICE Cube models built for Rackable’s enterprisey half-depth servers.

I’ll say this for SGI CEO Barrenechea: the man knows how to make the inside of a shipping container look wicked cool.

Now, as to who is buying them? Different story. I can’t get anyone who makes these things on record with hard numbers. The best I’ve gotten officially is “less than 70” or “the low tens of units” sold by individual companies. When I bring the topic up, whatever company I’m talking with always says that the market is still maturing, but they see a lot of promise “on the horizon.” The argument is that people will move to containers with a frequency that is closer to how often they build out a datacenter, rather than a typical IT refresh. If that’s right, that’s a pretty long time to spend waiting for someone to buy your product.

If you’re hankering for a Universal Class container, however, SGI says you’ll have to wait until Q3.


  1. Yawn…

    I saw this option from HP a year ago on a visit to Houston.

  2. John West says

    FJ: long time no comment! Welcome back, you crusty old so and so.

  3. Richard Hickey says

    Maybe I just don’t get it. But, I don’t see a market for this. Does anyone know why they are doing this? Other than because someone else did?

    A server farm/HPC system needs, Power, Cooling, Network connectivity, people to work on it, storage, blah blah blah. It needs a reason to be portable, other that it’s portable just because. I can understand something like this sitting in the hull of a ship, or an oil platform, etc, that makes sense I suppose. But not enough to make this a viable operation. Maybe one of your readers can say “It’s for this stupid” and I’ll go “Aha! Now that makes sense”

    Oh well. 🙂
    Richard Hickey

    See you at SC10

  4. John West says

    Rich, I’m sadly with you. Other than the field use, I don’t hear a lot of use cases. The other main one people talk about, which is mostly a “at some point in the future” example, is the Google use case: rather than racks in an air conditioned datacenter put trailers in a warehouse. As I said, though, this is more wishful thinking than orders in hand.