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August 20, 2009

SGI Rumored to Dump Graphics Visualization Group

Michael Feldman

When Geoffrey Noer, senior director of product marketing at SGI, told me last month that they “have not discontinued any of the products and have no immediate plans to do so,” apparently the word “immediate” just referred to that particular moment. If we are to believe the latest rumor dug up by VizWorld, SGI has jettisoned the graphics visualization group, and with it, the VUE product line. According to VizWorld editor Randall Hand:

I’m hearing from people within SGI that, as of Monday, the entire graphics division has been eliminated. That includes everyone from the Vice President of the graphics division on down to the engineers.

As we reported last year, when the product line was unveiled, VUE, which stands for visual user experience, is (or was) SGI’s all-encompassing software suite to bring visualization technology to their customers. The basic idea was to provide a common visualization environment across hardware platforms, so as to be able to “visualize anything anywhere, at any time, on any device.” Big ambition.

When I asked SGI to comment on the VizWorld report, they pointed me to CEO Mark Barrenechea’s blog which appeared on Wednesday evening. Unfortunately, his comments make no mention of the status of the visualization group nor the VUE product line. It was mostly an explanation of how GPUs are bringing visual and high performance computing to the masses, and how SGI is going to leverage the heck out of them. Great, but we already sort of knew that.

Toward the end of his blog entry, there is a hint of how SGI may have shifted its approach to visualization. After extolling the virtues of GPUdom, Barrenechea concludes:

This is why we are focused on working closely with nVidia and ATI/AMD and Intel many-core Larrabee, integrating their advanced graphics technology into our core platforms versus writing software to replace the GPU. When speed truly matters, put it in hardware.

I’m not sure to what extent the VUE software was actually replacing GPU hardware. The PowerVUE and SoftVUE offering were supposedly being designed to do software rendering on large servers using the CPU, so perhaps this is part of it. My guess would be that SGI got a good look at the GPU roadmaps from the vendors and decided that the VUE software was soon going to be made obsolete by the capabilities of the next generation of GPUs. But if true, why not just say so?

As of this writing SGI’s VUE Web page is still up and running, complete with videos and product briefs. So if you want to pay homage to the company’s visualization work, I’d encourage you to do so quickly.