Microsoft Moves Into High-End Clustering

Will the company succeed in making a product that is easier to use than Linux?

Microsofts foray into the high-end clustering software market took a step forward May 8 with the availability of the release candidate for its Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 product, a 64-bit operating system for industry-standard x64 processors.

At the other end of the software spectrum, the Redmond, Wash., software company also announced the release candidate for Windows Small Business Server 2003 R2 on May 8.

The Windows CCS product will mark a milestone for Microsoft when its released in summer 2006, as the company is a latecomer to a market largely dominated by open-source Linux software.

But Microsoft officials said they are committed for the long term to HPC (high-performance computing), as well as to a broader technical and scientific computing area.

Microsoft will release a single 64-bit-only version of CCS 2003. That version will also 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, said Kyril Faenov, Microsofts director for HPC. "We are going to work with our hardware partners to tailor the systems to particular market scenarios and then do benchmarks and evidence generation for key applications," Faenov said.

When asked what Microsofts strategy is toward the Linux and open-source community, Faenov said Microsoft has no strategy, per se.

Some users, such as David Robert, a systems manager for a global consulting and engineering company in Cambridge, Mass., said they are hoping that Microsoft will succeed in making a product that is easier to use than Linux.

Robert said that setting up a three-way Oracle cluster on Linux that uses a shared file system "was a bear for the company, 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."

Now that the Windows CCS code has met certain quality and performance goals and is suitable for production deployment, the product is on target to be released to manufacturers by the end of June, a Microsoft spokesperson said.

So far, more than 30 customers are using Windows CCS 2003 to solve their complex computational problems.

"The prescriptive setup procedures in Windows [CCS] 2003 simplify network configuration, the remote loading of nodes using Remote Installation Services, node configuration and security setup," the spokesperson said.

The integrated Job Scheduler can be accessed via a command-line interface or through several APIs provided for submitting and managing cluster workloads, while the Job Console allows customers to manage jobs in much the same fashion in which they would queue and manage print jobs.

In addition, Active Directory integration provides user and security management, while the MMC (Microsoft Management Console) supports extensible snap-ins and integration with MOM (Microsoft Operations Manager) 2005.

Visual Studio 2005 allows developers to leverage their Windows-based skills when developing "massively parallel" applications and "embarrassingly parallel" applications, the spokesperson said. (An embarrassingly parallel workload is one thats effortlessly segmentable into a large number of parallel tasks with no essential dependency or communication between those parallel tasks.)

On the small and midsize business side of things, the release candidate of Windows SBS 2003 R2 brings automated, networkwide patch and update management, giving users enhanced security and management; increased mailbox limits of 75GB (from 16GB); and expanded CAL (client access license) rights for access to additional Exchange 2003 and SQL 2005 Workgroup servers in the SBS 2003 R2 network.

Earlier in 2006, Microsoft hosted some 400 of its SMB customers and partners at the Redmond campus as part of its inaugural Small Business Summit titled "Take Your Business to the Next Level."

Kevin Turner, Microsofts chief operating officer and former executive vice president of Wal-Mart Stores, used his opening keynote at that event to talk up SBS 2003 R2 and to show the new user interface and some features.

Microsoft officials said that the SBS 2003 R2 product is on target for customer delivery later in 2006.