After 23 years as a leading high performance workstations / visualization leader, it seems that Silicon Graphics, or SGI, is in dire straits. After releasing fiscal fourth quarter results reporting a $15-$18 million operating loss, the company’s stock took a dive well into the “penny stock” territory. The company is currently examining its options in an attempt to stay afloat.
SGI was founded in 1981 by Jim Clark to bring to market his specialized hardware and software technologies that provided accelerated visualization of 3D images. In the years since, SGI’s workstations have represented the utmost in visualization computing power. Originally based on the Motorola 68K processor series, SGI’s workstations moved to a series of RISC processors made by MIPS Technologies, then a wholly owned subsidiary of SGI who also provided the CPU power behind consumer devices such as the Playstation (PSOne and PS2), Nintendo 64, and many, early PDAs. In the mid 90’s SGI migrated their workstations to the Intel Itanium processor and spun MIPS off entirely. Among the more notable software technologies that emerged over the years are IRIX, SGI’s UNIX System-V based operating system that runs on the workstations, and the OpenGL 3D API, which was heavily driven by SGI.
In recent years, the readily available, inexpensive, high power computer hardware from other vendors (Apple, standard PC makers, etc.) has encroached mightily into what was once niche, SGI-owned territory, forcing the company to expand in other directions such as storage and superclusters. (NASA’s Columbia supercomputer, currently the most powerful computer in the world, is capable of 42.7 trillion operations per second and is built from SGI Altix sysems, driven by 10,240 Itanium 2 processors.) Sadly, it has been a downhill slide in a hostile market for SGI since the mid 90s.
I have long admired SGI hardware, having my first exposure to it working at a defense contractor associated with NASA-Langley known as Vigyan back in 1993, where I played with an Iris and an Indigo 2. LAter, my college IT lab was stocked with, among other machines, SGI Indys. I finally could hold off no longer and grabbed my own SGI system, an O2 workstation with an SGI 1600SW screen, thanks to eBay. (Mentioned in a recent ByteCellar posting.)
Many are those who would mourn the passing of technology giant SGI.