Microsoft takes on supercomputing

Microsoft has launched its Compute Cluster Server, and at a competitive price too

After some delay, Microsoft finally ventured into the world of supercomputers with the launch of its Computer Cluster Server.

The Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003, launched on Friday, although brand new, is so named because it is based on Windows Server 2003 and will cost around $469 (£254) per node, the company says, but the price will vary depending on volume. 

Microsoft claims that running the software on the latest low cost computers represents "a 500x drop in the price of supercomputing" in the last eight years.

It has taken two years for Microsoft to prepare its first supercomputing software after first announcing its intention to develop for this market in June 2004.

After Bill Gates thew his weight behind the initiative last year he made it clear that supercomputing was "crucial to the many discoveries that impact our quality of life — from making safer, more efficient cars and airplanes to addressing global health issues and environmental changes".

The Compute Cluster Server is Microsoft's first software designed to run parallel, high-performance computing (HPC) intended for applications to solve complex computations.

At the launch, Microsoft stressed that the software was intended to be easy to use. "We wanted to make it simple and easy to deploy", said
Zane Adams, the director of Windows Server marketing. "It works with all our other software ...such as Active Directory, Visual Studio 2005...and it becomes a familiar model."

Microsoft has been "determined to leverage and work with the academic community" on making the software right for research purposes, Adams said.
To become a player in the high-performance computing field, Microsoft is setting great faith in the continuing developments in "multi-core processors, standards-based, high-speed interconnects and ubiquitous x64 (64-bit x86 architecture) computers".

The market for high performance computing is certainly growing very quickly. Analysts IDC, say the market grew approximately 24 percent in 2005 to reach a record $9.2 billion (U.S.) in revenue - - the second consecutive year of 20 percent-plus growth.

Much of the growth in high performance computing is at universities and other academic institutions. In the UK, the company works closely with, amongst others, the University of Southampton. Simon Cox, Professor of Computation Methods at the University, said that the Computer Cluster Server is "one tool that you need for high performance along with the workflow foundations like SQL Server". The university has a HP Cluster that he thinks can "migrate to HPC and desktops".

"Our typical user has no knowledge of Unix and Linux," said Cox, who has no time for other technologies favored by academics, such as grid computing. "It is high latency and low bandwidth, this is much more tightly coupled," he said.

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