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SC07 Microsoft's charge into the high performance computing game continues at pace. The software maker this week announced that its new cluster operating system - HPC Server 2008 - based on Windows Server 2008 will ship next Summer. In addition, the code dandy has fired up a Parallel Computing Initiative to develop more parallelized software for both HPC and business users.

Microsoft? HPC? Surely, we jest.

But, no, we mean it. Microsoft has shown some nice gains in a market dominated by Linux. Six Windows-based systems made their way onto the most recent Top500 supercomputer list. In addition, Microsoft claims loads of wins with smaller clusters aimed at both business and academia.

The oddly named Digipede stands as one company helping Microsoft out with its muscular computing push. These crazies supply tools for writing code that can spread .Net software across numerous systems. One exec from the 10-person company claimed during a dinner last night that Microsoft is doing far more to advance .Net than Sun and Co. are doing with Java these days. And, as a result, financial services firms are falling all over themselves to grab the Digipede code. We'll believe it when the company has an IPO.

Back to the big boy, Microsoft sees HPC Server 2008 bringing up to a 30 per cent performance boost on clusters over today's Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003. (Don't let the name fool you. The OS shipped in 2006. Oh, Microsoft.) The performance tweaks along with better overall scaling should help Microsoft crack more accounts with thousands and thousands of servers, Kyril Faenov, GM of HPC at Microsoft, told us today.

"We believe we are ready to tackle some of the largest workloads and clusters out there," he said.

Microsoft's pitch with its cluster OS has centered on ease of use. You get a familiar Windows interface, and you get all of the management tools in one package. Linux types often enjoy going out to find packages that suit them best, but Microsoft thinks this is just a real nuisance.

But, hang on, because Microsoft claims to have open arms with regard to the Linux set as well. It's been working with the Global Grid Forum to create a meta job scheduling system that can partition work between different clusters. This software will ship with Microsoft's new server OS and let a user "submit jobs to Windows clusters from any OS or other meta scheduler."

Microsoft believes such software will encourage customers to bring Windows clusters into their Linux shops and then send workloads out to the most appropriate cluster.

Also on the love all front, Microsoft is supporting just about any file system it can find. Panasas, Polyserve (HP) and IBM's GPFS are on board for 2008, and Faenov said he "would love to see" Sun's newly acquired Lustre run on HPC Server 2008.

Multi-Microsoft

Some of you, however, may be more intrigued by Microsoft's Parallel Computing Initiative.

When Intel broke the news to Microsoft of multi-core chips, Bill Gates famously told Intel to go pound sand because Redmond had little intention of writing tons of multi-threaded code.

Well, the realities of today's processor trends have taken hold at Microsoft, and the company is now beavering away on efforts to make it easier for developers to parallelize their goods. The company has hired new staff to create tools and to work with other software makers.

In addition, Microsoft researcher Chuck Thacker is working with professor Dave Patterson from Berkeley on building machines that teach multi-threaded coding techniques.

In total, you find Microsoft attacking this problem of producing code for mutli-core chips and clusters from both a practical and R&D angle.

It's no surprise to see Microsoft swing into action in a big way on the HPC front. Spending on HPC systems has increased dramatically over the past few years, making the HPC segment one of the liveliest parts of the overall server market.

Those of you interested in Microsoft's work can push the vendor for a second beta of HPC Server 2008 in Feb. or March. ®

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