Microsoft Joining Supercomputing Game

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2004-06-23

Microsoft Joining Supercomputing Game

Microsoft Corp. on Wednesday confirmed it is entering the market for high-performance computing software and will be offering a new version of Windows Server 2003 specifically for this.

That follows weeks of denials by company officials that it had made any final decision about new Windows software for HPC (high-performance computing).

The new version will be known as Windows Server 2003, HPC Edition, and is expected to ship in the second half of next year. Final pricing and packaging decisions have not been made, a Microsoft spokeswoman told eWEEK on Wednesday.

"This edition will be specifically designed for customers running scalable, parallel computing workloads in vertical market segments such as engineering, life sciences and finance," the spokeswoman said.

Windows Server 2003, HPC Edition, will give customers a Windows-based solution with a single simplified environment for developing HPC applications as well as deploying and managing HPC clusters.

It will also include established industry standards, such as MPI (Message Passing Interface), for high-performance computing and will be supported by many industry partners including OEMs, middleware vendors and ISVs such as Advanced Micro Devices Inc., Dell Inc., IBM, Intel Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., Verari Systems Inc. and Cornell Theory Center, the spokeswoman said.

Last month, the spokeswoman told eWEEK that while the Redmond, Wash., company was considering high-performance computing and how best to provide this to its customers, there was nothing to announce at that time.

"Although Microsoft does not have anything to specifically announce right now, they are evaluating the best way to enhance and package HPC capabilities for customers, and the company has posted ads for jobs in this regard," she said.

Andy Lees, Microsofts corporate vice president for server and tools marketing, told eWEEK last month that while the company was committed to HPC and to making sure there is "no place where Windows does not add value to our customers … no final decision has been made about a separate HPC version of Windows Server."

To read the full interview with Microsofts Lees, click here.

"What happens with high-performance computing is that there tends to be a small number of very large scenarios, and they usually involve customized hardware and requirements, and the customer then looks at what the right thing to do is with the software. Thats kind of our approach, so having a general-purpose box-on-the-shelf for high-performance computing is kind of a contradiction in some respects," he said.

"But is that a key scenario for us? Yes, it is, and we are looking at doing specific R&D [research and development] to help HPC be a scenario we can use as a differentiator. ... But people dont generally decide they want HPC in the bedroom or that they are going to go down to a retail store and buy it. Things do seem to be pretty customized in this area," Lees said.

Next Page: Cornell Theory Centers migration from Unix.

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Over the past few years Microsoft has invested in HPC clusters through partnerships with Cornell Theory Center and hardware makers to provide customers with the opportunity to take advantage of Cornells consulting/workshops to aid HPC application, development and deployment.

Dave Lifka, chief technology officer for the Cornell Theory Center, an interdisciplinary research center at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., runs 1,000 servers and migrated from Unix to Windows in 2000. He is excited about the advances Longhorn, the next version of Windows, will bring on this front.

"We are excited about all the things in Longhorn. The environment keeps getting richer and more integrated," he said. "We chose Windows because we wanted to make it easier for our users to have access to HPC.

"We wanted our users to have an integrated development and security environment so that when they developed code, they were integrated in, and there wasnt any porting or modifying involved," Lifka told eWEEK recently.

"Things like Visual Studio .Net, .Net and Longhorn make a big difference, and our push for Windows has worked out well," he said.

But other customers, like Brian Riley, senior programmer and analyst at a large U.S. health care services company, has no interest in an HPC offering from Microsoft. "Microsoft would like to gain some ground back from Linux [and Unix] in that department," he said. "But given Microsofts track record with security, do you really want the guy with the Excel spreadsheet being able to take over the operating system on your Cray [supercomputer]? I didnt think so."

Many Microsoft customers have, however, already successfully built and deployed Windows Server-based HPC clusters, and Microsoft sees this usage growing over time. In addition to the Cornell Theory Center, examples of HPC Windows Server deployments include the following:

  • Rosetta Genomics Ltd., a startup performing genomic-data-analysis;
  • Perlegen Sciences Inc., a company that uncovers genetic variations in diseases and clinical trials of medicines; and
  •, a prototype astronomical survey database.

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