Microsoft Launches Windows Server 2003 Compute Cluster Beta

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2005-09-15

Microsoft Launches Windows Server 2003 Compute Cluster Beta

LOS ANGELES—Microsoft Corp. this week released the first public beta for its Windows Server 2003 Compute Cluster Edition, which is designed to address the high-performance computing needs of its customers, particularly at the departmental and workgroup levels, and forms part of the Windows Server line of products.

The announcement of the beta, which is functionally complete, will be made during the keynote address by Microsoft Senior Vice President Bob Muglia at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference here on Thursday morning.

Beta 1 of Windows Server 2003 Compute Cluster Solution is available for download via Microsoft Connect and will be available to attendees of PDC.

Microsoft plans just one product SKU, and the product is expected to be released to manufacturing in the first half of 2006, officials told eWEEK.

Microsoft officials first announced it was entering the HPC software market in June 2004 and said at that time that the product would be specifically designed for customers running scalable, parallel computing workloads in vertical market segments such as engineering, life sciences and finance.

Company officials such as CEO Steve Ballmer have also admitted that Linux is ahead in the area of high-performance computing, but have said Microsofts staff comes to work every day looking at how to offer customers an even better solution.

Click here to read Ballmers remarks on HPC and his vision for the midmarket segment.

Muglia will also use his keynote to talk about how Excel has become a mission-critical application, and he will announce a new Excel Server, a source familiar with the contents of Muglias keynote told eWEEK.

In addition, Muglia will talk about how Microsoft is bringing HPC-class capabilities to business applications, the source said.

The Windows Server 2003 Compute Cluster Edition beta, which is feature-complete, will only undergo performance tuning between now and the Supercomputing Conference in Seattle in November. The early-deployment customer program will begin in January 2006, with general availability in the first half of the year, John Borozan, Microsoft senior product manager, told eWEEK.

Those ISVs who dominated the HPC space had a heritage of developing for the top of the HPC pyramid—the supercomputers—and are now looking to move down, while Microsoft, for its part, is starting from its legacy with infrastructure and workstations and is moving up.

The Windows Server 2003 Compute Cluster Edition is the first Microsoft product to include open-source technology. Click here to read more.

"So, there is a meeting of priorities between us and the ISVs, and for them this is a tremendous opportunity as they probably already have a Windows workstation product and they understand the complexity associated with developing for multiple versions of Linux and they want their applications to be seen by a wider audience, which we can do for them," Borozan said.

Figures released by research firm IDC show that the technical computing server market is growing by leaps and bounds, gaining some 70 percent in 2004, with the percentage of users running clusters also growing rapidly, particularly at the workgroup and departmental level, Borozan said.

"That push of HPC clusters to the departmental and workgroup level is hitting a confluence of Microsoft products, with Windows being used at the workstation level for day-to-day computing tasks, while we are seeing enterprises increasingly asking for a technical computing infrastructure," he said.

Next Page: Hardware advances, costs plummet.

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Advances in hardware are also making a huge amount of computing power available to enterprises, while costs are plummeting. An HPC system that 14 years ago cost $40 million cost just $3,800 today and involves a cluster of four PCs with Gigabit Ethernet and a $40 switch, Borozan said.

"So, what was once only in the reach of governments and institutions with enormous financial resources is now affordable to enterprises and now even departments and workgroups," he said. "We want to take the advantages we bring to our customers in terms of existing infrastructure, things like Active Directory, and marry that up with an HPC solution that removes the complexity from deployment."

Even today, setting up one of those clusters is fairly complex, and that is where Linux has done well in the space. "Theres an open-source community on the fringes acting as helpers to these people who are setting them up," he said

But integration with identity management remains one of the biggest problems with HPC today as people need to schedule jobs to a machine, and those jobs often require resources that are available only on other servers.

"So who has rights to actually do this? Weve been focused on bringing the ease-of-use and deployment advantages of Windows to our product, along with the existing infrastructure we have of AD and other things," Borozan said.

Customers at the departmental and workgroup level do not have huge IT resources, so Microsoft will provide them with a solution that lets them deploy clusters and have a huge amount of computing power at their beck and call rather than have to schedule time with a supercomputer, he said.

Asked if Microsoft is looking to the workgroup and departmental level as a niche for its solution, Borozan said that is not the case. When the product launches there will be proof-points that demonstrate that if users want to deploy Windows on HPC at the stratospheric level, this is possible.

"So we are not saying that we dont go there, but where we are focusing our energy with product development and partnerships is in the area where we think we add the most value, and that is the departmental workgroup level," Borozan said.

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