Feeds

Windows HPC edition in the works

Needs to be cheap as chips

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

High performance access to file storage

Although Microsoft has refused to confirm the many reports that say so, it appears the company is working on a version of its Windows Server platform specifically tailored for the high performance computing market...

That Microsoft would branch off from Windows 2003 Server to create an HPC Edition makes perfect sense for a number of reasons, but the main benefit would be to cut off one of the major growth areas for the Linux market, while filling its own coffers.

How the sector evolved

Thirty years ago, the HPC market was dominated by massively expensive vector supercomputers that ran a collection of Fortran and C programs on Unix operating systems. A vector processor is a fancy name for a specialized computer that does floating point math very fast, and being a specialized machine for a relatively tiny market, vector processors had to be expensive by definition.

In the mid-1990s, as HPC computing requirements went up faster than budgets (particularly for weather modeling and weapons research), research organizations in government and academia swiftly adapted many of the supercomputing programs to run on so-called massively parallel supercomputers that were created from clusters of Unix workstations or servers. These servers were linked together by special fast switches and software based on the Message Passing Interface standard. This MPI approach gradually went corporate, and with the advent of Linux clusters on cheap X86 iron in the past few years, it has gone mainstream. Microsoft wants a piece of the action.

Since 1992, Microsoft has been working with Dell, Intel, and the Cornell Theory Center of Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York, to create MPI-based clusters running a variety of Windows operating systems. There is a plethora of software available to make Windows clusters, but most companies are moving from Unix to Linux clusters because of the close relationship that exists, from a code execution point of view as well as from a system administration perspective, between the Unix and Linux systems.

Overlooked factors

The people jabbering about this rumored HPC Edition for the past few weeks didn't stop to realize two things. First, MPI is an open standard and Microsoft can easily weave it right into the guts of Windows, either at the communications layer or within the Common Language Runtime (CLR) execution environment of the .NET Framework. The latter would be more useful, since it would better insulate programmers from the complexities of having to program for parallel environments. (That's the theory, anyway.) Microsoft could partner (say with MPI Software Technology, one of the experts in this area that has Windows-compatible MPI code already done).

Here's the other thing they forgot. With the Services for Unix (SFU) layer of Windows Server 2003, which was significantly expanded in February and is now free, Microsoft has a Unix development and runtime environment inside Windows. This could also be extended with MPI, allowing Fortran and C applications written for parallel Unix clusters to be more easily ported to parallel Windows clusters. In theory, the parallel Unix applications would not have to be tweaked much (but would have to be recompiled) to run within the SFU environment on Windows. This is not such a big deal. Companies moving from Unix to Linux clusters are already doing it, in fact.

There are other possibilities, including creating a grid environment, as Sun Microsystems has, that aggregates the processing capacity of servers in an MPI cluster with desktops residing on the corporate network to create an even more massive parallel supercomputer. What Grid Engine does for Solaris - creating a virtual processing pool for parallel applications - Windows Server HPC Edition could do for Windows.

Competing on price

The main thing Microsoft has to realize is, if it wants to get into the HPC market, it not only has to more tightly integrate MPI and other protocols with the Windows platform, it will have to compete on price as well. The dirty little secret in the parallel Linux cluster market is that a lot of these machines are not running expensive server editions of the commercial Linux software (if they are using commercial versions at all), but rather are using stripped-down versions of desktop Linux editions, which basically have the kernel, some compilers and libraries, and the clustering software installed.

Windows Server HPC Edition, whether it comes out later this year or next year, is going to have to be very inexpensive to beat Linux in the HPC market. Linux didn't just take off in the HPC market because it was like Unix. It took off because it was cheap or free. If Microsoft can make programming for parallel supercomputers easier, through the magic of CLR and the future Visual Studio 2005, it may be able to charge a slight premium for a future Windows Server HPC Edition.

Source: ComputerWire/Datamonitor

Related research

Datamonitor: Microsoft: making strides with NSPs? (BFTC0799)

Related stories

Oracle, HP, Intel and Sun start YAGCSB*
Tyan aims four-way Opteron board at supercomp makers
Cray to buy AMD cluster maker

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Windows 8.1, which you probably haven't upgraded to yet, ALREADY OBSOLETE
Pre-Update versions of new Windows version will no longer support patches
Android engineer: We DIDN'T copy Apple OR follow Samsung's orders
Veep testifies for Samsung during Apple patent trial
OpenSSL Heartbleed: Bloody nose for open-source bleeding hearts
Bloke behind the cockup says not enough people are helping crucial crypto project
Microsoft lobs pre-release Windows Phone 8.1 at devs who dare
App makers can load it before anyone else, but if they do they're stuck with it
Half of Twitter's 'active users' are SILENT STALKERS
Nearly 50% have NEVER tweeted a word
Windows XP still has 27 per cent market share on its deathbed
Windows 7 making some gains on XP Death Day
Internet-of-stuff startup dumps NoSQL for ... SQL?
NoSQL taste great at first but lacks proper nutrients, says startup cloud whiz
US taxman blows Win XP deadline, must now spend millions on custom support
Gov't IT likened to 'a Model T with a lot of things on top of it'
prev story

Whitepapers

Mainstay ROI - Does application security pay?
In this whitepaper learn how you and your enterprise might benefit from better software security.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.