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Microsoft this week wheeled out racing-car firm Ferrari as the latest big-name user of the software giant's Windows HPC Server 2008, launched late last month in New York.
Ferrari is using the Microsoft software alongside existing Linux-based, AMD Opteron, high-performance computing systems running Fluent applications for aerodynamics and engine modelling.
Windows HPC Server 2008 replaces Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003, adding new scheduling, management tools, failover features and high-speed networking. Microsoft has already publicised the new product's use by Lloyds TSB, Boeing and Procter & Gamble.
Microsoft believes that Windows HPC Server 2008 can bring high-performance computing, a field dominated by Linux-based supercomputers, into the mainstream.
Piergiorgio Grossi, who, as IT manager of Ferrari Gestione Sportiva, leads the professional systems for the racing team, said the choice between Linux and Windows often came down to the expertise in the organisation. One of the reasons Ferrari decided to use Windows HPC Server 2008 was because it offered easier management.
"We run the company on Windows, so our engineers, our users and our system engineers are very used to Windows, and Windows HPC Server 2008 plugged easily into this infrastructure," Grossi said. "It's more compatible with the rest of our ecosystem," he added.
Performance is only one issue, he said. Management is just as important. "If we want to move from high-performance computing to high-productivity computing, we have to go not only in the direction of CPUs and number-crunching but also in the direction of productivity — building, managing, changing, developing," Grossi said.
He said high-performance computing was key to running Ferrari's Formula One team because of the short, 18-month life cycle of a racing car. "What is great about this business is the car is not built at the beginning and then we run nine months of races. The car evolves during all the pre-season. It just gets better because we have found better solutions," Grossi said.
Ferrari's overall head of IT, Dario Castello, said the car-design process starts with virtual simulations by Ferrari's high-performance systems, which consist of more than 400 nodes, running thousands of jobs.
"Then, when we find the best options, we build models and we use the wind tunnel for the first physical simulations to narrow the options. Then, what is best is finally tested on the track. But there is a continuous cycle of feedback between this three-stage process," Castello said.
He said that Ferrari was running many systems and that one of them is Windows HPC Server 2008. So, although the Linux and Microsoft systems are running in parallel, they are not being used for the same types of job.