Borozan said Microsoft is excited about the opportunity to take HPC to a mainstream audience and is working with ISVs that are category leaders in all the vertical markets it is going after: manufacturing, life sciences, geoscience, financial services, government and defense, and academia. The software giant is also hoping that every researcher and scientist will have access to supercomputing power from their desks within five years.The team is also working with other Microsoft products, such as Excel, to bring HPC into a more mainstream arena. One example of this work is with the Excel client for particularly complex spreadsheets that require models for a lot of calculations. Those cells can be calculated at the back end on a cluster rather than by the desktop machine, bringing sizable performance advantages, Borozan said. The upcoming release of Office 2007 also brings a new version of Excel that runs as a server application, and it is integrated with the job scheduler for Windows Compute Cluster Server so users can more easily run thousands of Monte Carlo-type simulations; improve the availability of those models; and expand them to a wider audience by making them resident on a server versus an isolated workstation, he said. Microsoft is facing a number of challenges getting users to upgrade to Office 2007. Click here to read more. "IT in those environments is also better able to protect their corporate intellectual property by keeping the models on the server rather than having them distributed across multiple workstations. Those are the kinds of things that we think will make HPC more mainstream, and wed like it to become as pervasive a resource as printers are today," Borozan said. As HPC involves a lot of custom code, Microsoft recently added support in Visual Studio 2005 for developing parallel applications, so that product now has parallel debugging capabilities, he said. With regard to the next version of the product, Borozan said while there is nothing to announce at this time, the development team is defining the feature set for that product. "But at a high level we want to make every researcher and scientist able to access this technology within five years," he said. Customers have told Microsoft that deploying an HPC cluster today is very complex, but the company believes cost and complexity should not be barriers to innovation and discovery, so that was its focus with this software solution. On the cost front, Microsoft believes its offering is competitive with competing stacks because it includes components beyond the operating system, like the MPI layer and the job scheduler, which are not found in other solutions. Customers also will not have to move off their existing technologies to use its product. "We believe that, with our entry, customers will start expanding their existing HPC resources to include Windows rather than to replace existing clusters," Borozan said. This is evident in the work Microsoft has done with Platform Computing, a provider of job schedulers. "We have worked with them over the past year to make our job scheduler interoperate with theirs so that the two can send jobs to one another," Borozan said. Customers who, say, have a Linux environment running Platform Scheduler could add a Windows-based cluster to the environment, and each could then send jobs to the other, he said. Click here to read more about the use of open-source technology in Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003. The MPI layer is based on the open-source MPICH2 reference implementation, against which most ISVs have tested their code, and Microsoft has optimized it for performance and security. Developers who have written an application for an HPC cluster on Linux and have used the MPICH2 implementation can easily port their applications to Windows, Borozan said. Microsoft assumed all along that it would be going into heterogeneous environments, and so worked with Argonne National Laboratory, which is a U.S. Department of Energy Laboratory operated by the University of Chicago, on the MPICH2 implementation. It announced partnerships with HPC Institutes worldwide last November. Those institutes traditionally did work on Linux and Unix, and there had been intentional sharing with the open community there, he said. "We know we have a lot to learn and to contribute. We are contributing our MPI code changes back to the community. We continue to listen to customers and partners, but there are no plans to license any of our HPC technology under, say, a Microsoft Shared Source license," he said. Check out eWEEK.coms for Microsoft and Windows news, views and analysis.
"To do that we are making sure that it can integrate well with an existing Windows infrastructure, so it uses Active Directory and other Microsoft management technologies like Microsoft Operations Manager. The interface and general environment will thus be familiar to them in that respect," he said.