Just a year ago, many IT managers would have scoffed at the idea of running Windows in corporate data centers. But times change. Today, IT staffs cant find out fast enough how the Cornell Theory Center at Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y., is using Microsoft Corp.s Windows Server 2003 Datacenter Edition on Intel Corp. 64-bit Itanium processor machines for high-performance computing.
The CTC, which develops and provides computational resources to Cornells researchers, has been using Windows Server 2003 Datacenter Edition on Itanium 2 processors to facilitate research computing. The move has not only improved performance and reduced development time but has also increased manageability, said David Lifka (pictured above), chief technical officer at the CTC. "A lot of organizations, like ours, have large, mission-critical applications that can benefit from applying technologies that involve high-performance computing," said Lifka. "We are trying to push the technology while looking for new tools."
Microsoft may have been late to the 64-bit game, but in Windows Server 2003 Datacenter Edition, customers such as Lifka are finding a Windows platform thats finally secure and reliable enough for corporate data centers. In addition, an increasing number of enterprises are considering Windows 64-bit computing because of tight IT budgets, increasing reliance on high-performance computing infrastructures, and increasing commoditization of computer and networking components, experts say.
Making high-performance computing accessible to researchers of all computer literacy levels, while providing the scalability and performance levels necessary for research, is a priority at the CTC. Five years ago, the center migrated its backbone from Unix to a Windows NT 4.0 environment. The move enabled CTC researchers to use one computer system for both intensive computing applications and daily office functions.
Using Windows Server 2003 Datacenter Edition, SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition (64-bit) and Visual Studio .Net for application development, the CTC is developing an infrastructure to support database-centric parallel computing, distributed Web services and real-time data generation to control the execution of long-running, resource-intensive programs.
"We have been extremely impressed with the reliability of Windows 2003," the CTCs Lifka said. "The feature functionality has dramatically improved. One of the areas thats critical is IIS [Internet Information Services], and the version of IIS in Server 2003 is phenomenal" (see review of IIS 6.0).
A Unisys ES7000 Orion 130 with 32 Intel Itanium 2 processors is currently running SQL Server 2000 (64-bit) as a data engine to serve data to computationally intensive applications. The server is also being used to run 64-bit applications from SAS Institute Inc., handling computations for large data loads, such as census data.
A Unisys ES7000 Orion 230 with 32 Intel Xeon processors serves Web services that simultaneously support a variety of research groups. Researchers can now start jobs immediately while accessing clients using The MathWorks Inc.s Matlab or Microsofts Excel to invoke Web services in the background. This capability has significantly increased productivity among researchers, Lifka said.
The CTC has also seen a significant reduction in operating costs because of improved manageability, Lifka said.
Lifka is now grappling with some of the performance and storage issues that researchers in general face. He is looking into using SQL Server 2000 on the Windows-based ES7000 to provide high- availability data storage that will allow researchers to overcome the limitations on large data sets and scalability.
"Were beyond the risks because people have been evaluating and piloting the EPIC [Explicitly Parallel Instruction Computing] architecture for some time," Lifka said. "People are ready to move to the IA-64 platform."
eWEEK Labs Senior Writer Anne Chen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.