Microsoft Weighs Windows Supercomputing Push

 
 
By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2004-05-25
 
 
 
Microsoft Corp. is evaluating the best way to enhance and package high-performance computing capabilities for its customers, but has made no final decision on how this will be delivered.

Published reports on Monday said Microsoft had launched an effort to produce a version of Windows for high-performance computing (HPC), a move seen as a direct attack on a Linux stronghold, and that the company was planning a new operating system version called Windows Server HPC Edition.

But while a Microsoft spokeswoman did not dismiss this as a possibility down the line, she said 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 this 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.

But any move by Microsoft in this area was unlikely to be as a replacement to its Windows Server Datacenter product, but more likely a compliment. Timing on that would be determined once any plans are solidified further," she said.

Microsoft has talked about HPC being one of the types of "server workloads" that it will support with Windows Server in the future, she said.

Over the past few years the company has invested in HPC clusters through partnerships with Cornell Theory Center and hardware partners to provide customers 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. We chose Windows because we wanted to make it easier for our users to have access to HPC [high-performance computing].

"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.

Many customers have also 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:

  • 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
  • SkyQuery.net, a prototype astonomical survey database.

    The Microsoft spokeswoman said that building high performance computers from clusters of standardized server hardware is emerging as an important usage scenario in general, "and for Windows Server, to solve technical and business problems that only a few years ago required dedicated supercomputers."

    "This approach is complementary to scale-up computing in which Windows runs on single large servers with up to 64 processors," she said.

    However, the HPC market is, for the moment, dominated by Linux and Unix. Five of the top ten fastest supercomputers in the world run Linux, and of a list of the top 500 supercomputers, just two appear to be Windows machines.

    For example, Thunder, a machine at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab, has 512 Linux servers running Red Hat Enterprise Linux. The cluster can perform more than 19 trillion calculations per second.

    "Microsoft will continue to invest in this area to make development of HPC applications and the deployment and management of Windows-based HPC systems easier," the spokeswoman said.

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