High Performance Windows Server Hits Beta

Microsoft said Monday it has begun beta testing the two newest components of its high performance computing (HPC) strategy.

At the top of the list, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) released Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 — the server tuned for HPC settings — for testing. Also, the company said it has begun beta testing a special version of Office Excel 2010 for clusters.

The moves are directed toward bringing down the price and complexity of handling supercomputing tasks, one of Microsoft’s long-term strategic initiatives.

“Until now, the power of high-performance and parallel computing has largely been available to a limited subset of customers due to the complexity of environments and applications, as well as the challenges of parallel programming,” Vince Mendillo, senior director of high-performance computing at Microsoft, said in a statement.

In one of the most recent examples of Microsoft’s push into the HPC arena, the company bought the assets of Interactive Supercomputer in September. The company’s technologies — in both HPC and parallel computing — will be integrated into Microsoft’s HPC offerings over time.

The latest move has Microsoft fitting HPC capabilities into the most recent iteration of its server. Many of the changes are upgrades or enhancements.

For instance, one important set of enhancements in Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 enables it to deploy, run, and manage clusters as large as 1,000 nodes. That’s where Excel 2007 for clusters comes in.

“By moving Microsoft Office Excel 2010 to the cluster, customers are seeing linear performance scaling of complex spreadsheets — spreadsheets that before would take weeks to complete, and which are now completing their calculations in a few hours,” the company said in a statement.

Other improvements that Microsoft called out in the beta server include new configuration and deployment options such as diskless boot, mixed-version clusters, and support for a remote head node database.

Additionally, the HPC server features upgrades in system management, diagnostics, and reporting, as well as increased support for service-oriented architectures.

Microsoft has posted more information and a link to the download online.

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