Gates promises a supercomputer under every desk

Er, unless security is a problem

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SC05 Not satisfied with owning your PC, Microsoft would like to own your personal cluster too. So said Chairman Bill Gates today at the Supercomputing 2005 conference here in Seattle, where he laid out a vision that includes inexpensive super-powered machines available to average users - not just government labs and universities.

"What we see as a key trend here is that we will have supercomputers of all sizes, including ones that will cost less than $10,000 and be able to sit at your desk or in a department," Gates said.

A rather humble Gates admitted that Unix and Linux dominate the supercomputing landscape, a fact that only Redmondian logic could deny. To that end, Microsoft plans to create Windows cluster software that can work in tandem with Linux-based kit. Microsoft showed a demo where a Windows cluster and Linux cluster cranked away on calculations at the same time and delivered up a shared set of data to the end user. (What kind of demo? Cancer research of course. How subtle.)

"It's all about heterogeneity," Gates said.

While some reports suggeseted that Gates talked up a new, publicly available beta of its Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 operating system, Gates mentioned the product's name but gave no more information. The OS is due in production form in the first half of next year. Microsoft, however, did reveal the beta 2 news in a press release.

Microsoft also opened up about its cluster OS at an event in Spain.

Overall, Gates' message proved a bit boring. He mentioned that supercomputers do important things and will be more important in the coming years because we face important issues. Microsoft, of course, will have a tough time cracking into this important work since Linux is the OS of choice for the supercomputer crowd.

Gates does seem to be on the right track though as far as the personal clusters are concerned. Orion Multisystems already makes a super-charged 96-processor deskside cluster than can plug into a standard wall outlet. Researchers have been seeking such machines which will let them crank away at projects right in their labs and transfer bigger jobs to the giant clusters that require special cooling systems and have higher power requirements.

"We need an approach here that scales from the smallest supercomputer up to the very largest," Gates said.

Microsoft plans to tie its other productivity, database and workflow applications into the cluster OS over time. This would make it possible for researchers to set up projects and then easily see relevant information about the data they were collecting and how other scientists were using the information. Apparently, RSS feeds are very important in this vision, which gives you some idea of how Microsoft may fail in the supercomputing space.

The 9,000-person Supercomputing crowd appeared enthralled with Gates and peppered him with probing questions following the keynote. Gates was forced to address his opinions on global warming and supercomputing security.

"I am not really an expert on the energy problem," Gates said to the first question.

"Security is one of the few things that, if we don't do it right, could take this vision I have talked about and really hold it back," Gates said.

Hold on to your hats, friends. Your DNA could be one worm away from entering the global computing grid. But at least you'll have a really fast PC for playing Doom 78. ®

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