RealTime IT News

Microsoft to Bang High Performance Drum at TechEd

Microsoft has made its mark bringing affordable software to customers at the low end of the market. But sometimes the low end and high end meet somewhere in the middle.

The software giant today released to manufacturers the finished, "golden" bits of its Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003, a software package that runs high-performance computing (HPC) applications in parallel.

The news comes as Microsoft prepares for its TechEd show in Boston, where company executives will demonstrate the Computer Cluster Server 2003 during a keynote Sunday night.

Kyril Faenov, director of high performance computing at Microsoft, said the software will help customers solve complex problems at the department or workgroup level.

The product is intended to show customers that HPC is no longer relegated to running scientific and engineering applications, but can be used to solve complex business problems as well.

Faenov said Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003, launched in a second beta last November at Supercomputing 2005 in Seattle, is easy to use and run.

The software, which will run only on machines that have 64-bit processors, integrates with a customer's existing Windows infrastructure and tools. The idea is to avoid interoperability problems and complex, dedicated expertise to get the product up and running, Faenov said.

Early-adopter customers have included Petrobras, which ran oil and gas reservoir simulation and seismic processing, as well as Cornell University's Computational Biology Service Unit, which ran simulations of enzyme catalysis and protein folding.

The executive also said original equipment manufacturers, including HP, IBM and Dell, are developing software based on Compute Cluster Server 2003 this year.

At first blush, it would seem that those vendors would oppose involving themselves with Microsoft's HPC endeavor because they have major stakes in the market, but Faenov noted that HP, IBM and Dell typically cater to larger installations.

Faenov said Microsoft is strictly focused on low-end, sub-million-dollar installations, an area that doesn't infringe on the systems vendors' long-term investments. It's also the HPC segment where Microsoft sees the most growth.

"The million-dollar and above market has been fairly static in the last five years while the overall HPC market has doubled in revenue in the last six years," Faenov said.

"The growth is all happening at the workgroup and departmental level, which is sub-million-dollar and, in particular, the sub-$250,000 range is exploding through the use of clusters."

This trend was supported by IDC, which estimates that unit shipments for HPC will expand by more than 12 percent annually through 2010.

Available to customers in August, Compute Cluster Server 2003 will be sold in the volume license channel for $469 per node. Prices will vary depending on license and volume.

Evaluation versions are available here today and will also be provided free to show attendees.

Faenov said he will be demonstrating how Computer Cluster 2003 can be used to accelerate calculations on Microsoft's Excel spreadsheet program during the TechEd keynote.

"This is an example of an application that is very congruent with our theme of bringing HPC to the mainstream, where computational clustering can be used not only for existing scientific and engineering apps, but to enable any computationally-intensive application in a business or technical environment," Faenov said.

In the days following the keynote, Faenov said Microsoft partners will show how they run their software on top of Compute Cluster 2003.