Feeds

Microsoft feeds Excel to supercomputer

Windows HPC chases Linux

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

SC09 If the quants in financial services get tools for running their models more quickly, will the economy get better or worse? Who knows? But thanks to Microsoft, we're all going to find out.

At the SC09 supercomputing trade show in Portland, Oregon, this week, Microsoft is trumpeting the parallel programming smarts its baking into future Visual Studio 2010 development tools - and how its Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 will reach parity with Linux performance for MPI-style parallel applications.

But the most interesting thing that Microsoft is actually talking about at the show - well, the second most interesting thing after the full-sized flight simulator in its booth - is a future combination of Excel 2010 and Windows HPC Server 2008 that will allow companies to bolt an x64 cluster to their workstations to radically improve the performance of macro-based models built in Excel workbooks.

This may not seem like a big deal, but it will be. While all kinds of companies use parallel supercomputers to simulate physical objects or to chew through data of one kind or another to make a decision. according to Vince Mendillo, senior director of high performance computing at Microsoft's Server and Tools Business Group, even the most sophisticated users - and plenty of unsophisticated ones - build models in plain old Excel rather than do "real" programming. Real or not, companies have made an enormous investment in their Excel models, and many of them have run up against severe performance barriers.

And so, Microsoft will allow users to lash the future Excel 2010 to a Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 cluster (both programs are in beta now), turning an x64 cluster into an Excel workbook co-processor, radically speeding up the performance of macros running inside the workbooks.

This may not sound like HPC, but it is if you are making money at it, which Microsoft very likely will. By Mendillo's reckoning, there are an estimated 500 million active Excel users worldwide and somewhere between 50 and 55 million quant workers among them who use spreadsheets to build models of all kinds and across all industries.

Microsoft estimates there are hundreds of millions of "heavy users" of Excel that might benefit from having a server or a cluster to offload workbook crunching duties to. These users have their own user defined functions buried in their workbooks, which create the models, and in some cases, Mendillo says shops have 400,000 to 600,000 lines of code buried in their spreadsheet models.

And thus, it comes as no surprise that at one financial services firm, a workbook run for a model that took 45 hours to run on a beefy, high-end Windows workstation was able to run in about two hours when backed up by a 16-node server cluster.

Mendillo also boasted that the Excel 2010-HPC Server combo, which hasn't even shipped yet, was behind the single largest server operating system deal that Microsoft has done in its history. While Mendillo won't say how big the deal was, or who did it, he did say that it was at a financial services firm with very complex Excel models that was also interested in Microsoft's F# programming language, which is a functional language akin to Pascal that quants have taken a shining to.

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

Next page: F sharp

More from The Register

next story
Docker's app containers are coming to Windows Server, says Microsoft
MS chases app deployment speeds already enjoyed by Linux devs
Intel, Cisco and co reveal PLANS to keep tabs on WORLD'S MACHINES
Connecting everything to everything... Er, good idea?
SDI wars: WTF is software defined infrastructure?
This time we play for ALL the marbles
'Urika': Cray unveils new 1,500-core big data crunching monster
6TB of DRAM, 38TB of SSD flash and 120TB of disk storage
Facebook slurps 'paste sites' for STOLEN passwords, sprinkles on hash and salt
Zuck's ad empire DOESN'T see details in plain text. Phew!
Windows 10: Forget Cloudobile, put Security and Privacy First
But - dammit - It would be insane to say 'don't collect, because NSA'
Oracle hires former SAP exec for cloudy push
'We know Larry said cloud was gibberish, and insane, and idiotic, but...'
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.