Microsoft to Take On Linux in HPC Space

Microsoft's goal: to take the technology to a mainstream audience and give every researcher and scientist access to supercomputing power from their desks within five years.

Microsoft is finally ready to enter the high-performance computing market, a technology dominated by open-source Linux technology.

The Redmond, Wash., software maker released Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 to manufacturing on June 9, with general availability of the product scheduled for August.

It will be sold via volume licensing and OEM licensing for an estimated price of $469 a node, but prices will vary depending on the license and volume, John Borozan, group product manager for the Windows Server Division, told eWEEK.

Evaluation copies of Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003, a 64-bit operating system for industry-standard x64 processors, will be handed out to attendees of Microsofts TechEd 2006 conference in Boston the week of June 12, he said.

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This is Microsofts first software offering designed specifically to run parallel, high-performance computing applications for customers, and it provides a platform that can be deployed, operated and integrated with existing infrastructure and tools. Customers can also leverage their existing development skills using Visual Studio 2005, Borozan said.

The upcoming availability of the Windows Compute Cluster Server marks a milestone for Microsoft, which is a late-comer to a market largely dominated by Linux software.

While Microsoft will release a single 64-bit-only version of the software, it will run on all the hardware platforms supported by Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1, on which it is based.

All the major OEMs, including IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Dell and NEC Solutions America, as well as the major interconnect vendors, have announced support for the product.

Customer demand for HPC is being driven by increased performance in processors per compute node, the low acquisition price per node and the overall price/performance of compute clusters. These trends are driving new customers to adopt HPC to replace or supplement live, physical experiments with computer-simulated modeling, tests and analysis, Borozan said.

Analyst firm IDC says it expects unit shipments for HPC to expand by more than 12 percent annually over the next five years, and that high-performance computing clusters will see substantial customer adoption in the lower-end capacity segments of the market.

Uses of the Windows Compute Cluster Server by early adopters span oil and gas reservoir simulation and seismic processing; life sciences use for simulations of enzyme catalysis and protein folding; and vehicle design and safety improvements.

One customer, Cornell Universitys Computational Biology Service Unit, in Ithaca, N.Y., has adopted Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 as a platform for computational biology applications of a wide range of research activities in bioinformatics, including sequence-based data mining, population genetics and protein structure prediction.

"Adopting Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 was a natural step for us, since we use SQL Server for our database needs and Windows servers for hosting our Web interfaces," said Dr. Jaroslaw Pillardy, a senior research associate at the Biology Service Unit.

"In addition to serving massively parallel applications, Ive found that Windows Compute Cluster Server is a convenient tool for serving the computational needs of many small projects, where installing the software, updating databases and managing other such tasks are much easier with this than on a set of separate computers," he said.

Next Page: Taking HPC mainstream.