UPDATED: Microsoft Targets Windows HPC Server 2008 for Mainstream

Microsoft released on Monday Windows HPC Server 2008, the datacenter-class operating system that promises to broaden the development and implementation of high-performance computing applications on the Windows platform.

Company officials used the High Performance on Wall Street conference in New York to launch Windows HPC Server 2008, the long-anticipated successor to Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003.

Based on the core Windows Server 2008 operating system, Microsoft's new HPC platform is regarded as a substantially improved upgrade for creating large server clusters. It could also be pivotal in bringing parallel computing on the Windows platform to a wider swath of applications that require support for real-time, low-latency computation. Microsoft said the new release is much faster to deploy and easier to administer than Compute Cluster Server 2003.

"Microsoft has taken high-performance computing to the mainstream by making it part of our overall product strategy," said Bill Laing, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Windows Server and Solutions division, in a keynote address at the conference.

Laing added that the tight integration and availability of commodity hardware -- including the release of Cray Inc.'s lowest-cost supercomputer to date (starting at $25,000), the CX1 based on Windows HPC Server 2008 -- should extend the deployment of HPC-based solutions. "We are making supercomputing performance available to companies that previously would not be able to afford it," he said.

Microsoft said HPC Server will also facilitate the move to parallel programming using tools such as the new F# programming language, which was released as a community test preview (CTP) earlier this month, and for .NET Parallel Extensions to the .NET Framework, which is also available as a CTP.

Pitching High Performance
Windows HPC Server 2008 is suited for applications that require complex computing tasks such as real-time algorithmic computation, simulations and other computing-intensive functions. With the current credit crisis kicking off a historic unraveling of financial markets last week, Microsoft officials pitched HPC applications as a pivotal risk-mitigation tool because of their ability to process complex computations in real time.

While Microsoft sees Wall Street as the likely earliest adaptor of HPC solutions, the company used Monday's conference to kick off a 25-city launch event to target a broad swath of customer segments, including manufacturing, life sciences, public sector, and oil and gas, among others.

During the keynote presentation, Kyril Faenov, general manager of Microsoft's high-performance computing engineering team, pointed to Excel 2007 as an application that can take advantage of today's multicore systems. He singled out Excel's ability to support up to 1 million rows (up from 65,000 in previous versions) and it's multithreading capability.

Faenov said developers can build this functionality without significant coding requirements. "From a developer standpoint, we made it very easy to be able to take the computations we have today running in the client, and add a bare minimum amount of code to be able to parallelize on the server," Faenov said. "It's very, very simple to be able to take the code with minimal amount of changes and connect it to the cluster."

Despite the tighter integration with Visual Studio and the .NET Framework, some developers might find HPC Server 2008 challenging, said John Powers, founder and CEO of Oakland-based Digipede Technologies, a Microsoft partner. "I think the programming model still needs additional improvements," Powers said.

Powers said Windows Server 2008 presumes developers are using Windows Communication Foundation and doesn't readily support applications based on legacy code, even those based on earlier iterations of the .NET Framework. "That's where we come in," Powers said.

For many customers looking to roll out HPC Server, that might not be an issue, said Vince Mendillo, a director in Microsoft's Server and Tools Business Group. "Most of the customers we are seeing who are planning new deployments are writing new apps," Mendillo said.

Much of the legacy code that developers may need to support is Linux-based, he said. Mendillo noted support for Iron Ruby, Iron Python, Fortan and a built-in Posix-compliant shell should help many developers bridge to non-Windows environments.

For developers looking to link to other applications and systems, Windows HPC Server also supports OpenMP, Multiprocessor Interconnect (MPI) and third-party interfaces from the likes of Intel, AMD, Visual Numerics and Corporate Modeling, among others.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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