Microsoft tries to simplify supercomputing with Windows HPC Server beta

New server beta propels Microsoft's launch into high performance computing

Microsoft's quest to make a name for itself in the high-performance computing world took a step forward this week with a new beta version of Windows HPC Server that Microsoft says will improve scalability and simplify supercomputing.

Microsoft first released Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 in beta last November, and announced on Wednesday that an updated beta version is available for download. Microsoft made a big splash in 2008 when a Windows HPC-based cluster in Shanghai made the 10th spot in the Top 500 list of the fastest supercomputers in the world, but the ranking has since fallen to 19th.

"With this new beta release, we anticipate other Top 500 runs," says Vince Mendillo, a product marketing director in Microsoft's high-performance computing group.

The second beta release takes advantage of customer feedback and test runs on a 1,000-node cluster at Microsoft Research. General availability is planned for the fall of this year.

"The whole goal is to make parallel computing a lot easier," Mendillo says. "Today parallel programming is just too hard to do." New features include integration with workstations, which lets companies harness the power of PCs to improve cluster speeds. For example, a company with 500 PCs could have them run as part of an HPC cluster overnight, when their regular users have gone home.

The updated beta features integration with Excel, so that sophisticated models that might take hours to run on a desktop computer can be completed within minutes on an HPC cluster. Separately, next week's release of Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 will also help developers "create, debug and trace HPC applications using already-familiar tools," Microsoft says.

Microsoft says it will help customers build hybrid clusters that use both Windows and Linux by collaborating with HPC management companies such as Adaptive Computing, Clustercorp and Platform Computing.

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Jon Brodkin

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