Company chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates last week announced the second beta for Microsoft Corp.s Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003, a 64-bit operating system for industry-standard x64 processors.
Gates used his keynote address at the Supercomputing show in Seattle to make the announcement, which follows the release of the first, more limited beta at Microsofts Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles in September.
"We expect our customers to start preproduction deployment evaluations of the product with this beta," said Kyril Faenov, Microsofts director for HPC (high-performance computing), adding that the team is not planning a third Windows CCS beta, so a release candidate will be next.
Asked what feedback Microsoft had received from the developers who tested Beta 1, Faenov said it became clear just how important it is to provide them with diagnostic tools.
"To a large degree, it is not as much the software challenges but the hardware challenges that come into play when some cluster configurations are deployed," Faenov said. "So, diagnostics become really important, and we have done some good thinking and made some improvements in that area. There was also a lot of focus during Beta 2 development on optimizing the performance."
Some users, such as David Robert, a systems manager for a global consulting and engineering company in Cambridge, Mass., are hoping that Microsoft will be successful in making a product that is easier to use than Linux.
"We are in the process of setting up a three-way Oracle [Corp.] cluster on Linux that uses a shared file system, and it has been a bear, what with the lack of documentation and problems with our backup program not being compatible. Im sure Microsoft will do a better job in this arena than Linux," Robert said.
To help ISVs rapidly migrate their code, Microsoft showcased about 19 applications, such as a car crash simulation guide and a weather modeling guide, as well as a demonstration of BioTeam Inc.s Inquiry software—which includes 160 open-source BioTeam applications—on a Windows CCS cluster at its booth at the Supercomputing show last week, Faenov said.
"These companies were all able to move to Windows 64-bit if they were not already there, pick up our FDI [file decompression interface] and just run with it, and that has been very encouraging," he said, adding that the product is still on track to ship in the first half of next year.
Asked what its strategy is toward the Linux and open-source community, given Linuxs dominance in the HPC field and the fact that Microsoft is including the MPI (Message Passing Interface) in the product, Faenov said Microsoft has no such strategy per se.
"Our strategy is to deliver the best value and help grow the market, and we are making very pragmatic choices based on specific requirements we hear partners or customers want. MPI was an example of this, and if there are other places where this makes sense for us, our customers and/or partners, well look at them," Faenov said.
All the major OEMs, including IBM, Hewlett-Packard Co., Dell Inc. and NEC Solutions America Inc., as well as all the major interconnect vendors, have announced support for the product, Faenov said.
Microsoft will release a single 64-bit-only version of CCS 2003, which will also run on all the hardware platforms supported by Windows Server 2003 SP1 (Service Pack 1), on which it is based.
"We are going to work with our hardware partners to tailor the systems to particular market scenarios and then to do benchmarks and evidence generation for key applications," Faenov said.
The announcement of Beta 2 marked a milestone for the Redmond, Wash., software maker, which is committed for the long term to HPC, as well as to a broader technical and scientific computing area.
There are three main pillars for Microsoft: business computing; consumer computing; and, now, technical and scientific computing, an area in which there is room for many software advances, according to Faenov.
In his keynote, Gates also pointed to the need for software to help scientists and researchers focus on their work and not on the underlying IT, Faenov said.
In addition, Gates talked about Microsofts multimillion-dollar investments in and multiyear commitment to 10 Institutes for High Performance Computing around the globe, where it is creating funded research positions at facilities such as the University of Utah, Cornell Universitys Cornell Theory Center, the University of Stuttgart and the Tokyo Institute of Technology.
"The centers we chose have a unique blend of expertise, as they do research in HPC systems and, in many cases, are closely affiliated with an HPC center, giving them a unique insight from both a scientific and industry perspective on what will actually help solve real problems," Faenov said.
The agreements with Microsoft will see the staff at these centers deploy the vendors HPC and other products and then work with Microsoft staff to explore and maximize its product road map going forward, Faenov said.