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Microsoft Aims at Cluster Computing

LOS ANGELES -- Microsoft's server group is looking to displace Linux in the growing cluster computing market.

The software giant released the first beta version of its Compute Cluster Solution today at its Professional Developers Conference as well as online.

The formal release, which will help manage clusters of up to 128 machines, is scheduled for the first half of next year.

"We think the ecosystem is ready for this and we're very excited about this opportunity," Bob Muglia, Microsoft's senior vice president of Windows server division, said in his keynote address here.

Microsoft believes the cluster computing trend will continue, especially with the emergence of dual-core processors to boost computing power. There's also an active community of independent software vendors who are working in the space and are contributing to the technology's adoption.

Clusters are used by financial services firms, government agencies, pharmaceutical companies, research labs and universities as a cheaper alternative to mainframes.

Currently, most compute clusters run on Linux. That has worked for many, but there are drawbacks, Muglia contended. Specifically, he cited the spotty support capabilities and the inability to integrate applications with other enterprise software.

"Our goal is to build a complete platform," Muglia said.

A demonstration of the product showed a financial service firm using a four-node cluster to run complex financial calculations on an Excel platform.

The programmer uses a simple Web interface to start the process. The software then assigns the job to available resources in the cluster. A monitoring interface allows a user to check the status of a job and the performance of the cluster.

"Clearly this is a mission-critical application; failure is not an option," Kyril Faenov, director of Microsoft's high-performance computing unit, said in a demonstration. "The monitor senses failure in node, resubmits and requeues the job."

Microsoft also discussed upcoming Windows server developments today.

First, it will issue Windows Server 2003 release 2 by year's end. The interim release adds features from 2003 product. It will include the first version of Active Directory Federation Services to help developers build federated Web applications.

Around the same time as the Windows Vista release, the company will deliver WinFX and the InfoCard. With Windows Server Longhorn, the company will begin aligning common architecture, policy, developer model and management experience.

Subsequent version of Windows Server "Longhorn," will add new capabilities to Active Directory such as the Security Token Service to simplify identity and access even as applications become more interoperable, Muglia said in his presentation.