Microsoft new HPC Server adds SETI-like capabilities

Updated Windows HPC operating system lets users tap into corporate servers, and later into cloud compute systems

Microsoft today released an updated version of its Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 that can tap into compute resources throughout an enterprise as well as a cloud computing system.

The company is hoping that the new features in the HPC server will make it more attractive to corporate IT managers, particularly those looking to boost the speed of Excel data crunching.

Microsoft's new HPC, or high performance computing, server can also be managed with existing Windows management tools, and "supports the trend of HPC becoming from what used to be islands of specialized infrastructure to be weaved into the rest of IT processes," said Kyril Faenov, general manager of Microsoft's High Performance Computing Group.

The updated HPC server can scavenge for compute cycles on other systems running on a network that are preloaded with an agent. The upcoming Service Pack 1 for the server will add to also tap into public cloud computing cycles, Microsoft said.

A systems administrator sets the parameters that allow those compute cycles to be used. The settings can have the process run in the background on a PC or stop the moment a user touches a keyboard.

The capabilities are similar to those in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI@Home system, which can access available compute cycles on several million computers to run its calculations.

Faenov said adding the capabilities to a Windows-based product will help expand HPC beyond the limited set of users currently able to use the technology. Microsoft believes that enterprises and governments are "fundamentally becoming dependent on large scale simulation and analysis," he said.

Although Microsoft's HPC system can support thousands of processors, Linux remains the dominant operating system for very high end computers. Linux runs 91 per cent of the Top 500 supercomputers, while Windows runs just 1 per cent. Microsoft is currently aiming mostly to expand Windows to mid-sized to small-sized HPC clusters.

Addison Snell, an analyst at Intersect360 Research, said the updated server brings Microsoft in line with the current direction of high performance computing.

Meanwhile, Cray today said HPC 2008 R2 will be available on its Cray CX1 deskside supercomputer that supports both the Linux and Windows operating systems. The Cray CX1 is priced from $25,000 to $100,000, and supports up to 96 CPU cores.

The Cray CX1 speed is variable, depending on the chip configuration and whether it is using any GPU accelerators or not, but if it is using Intel chips then its speed is probably on the order of 5 TFLOPS, said Barry Bolding, vice president of Cray's products division.

Cray has enabled a dual boot capability, and Bolding said that Microsoft has enabled features in its HPC software that makes it easier to run both operating systems in the same cluster.

Cray rival SGI also announced today that its Octane III personal supercomputer will run Microsoft Windows HPC Server 2008 R2. SGI also said it plans to extend support for the Microsoft HPC server to its Rackable server and other product lines in the future.

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Patrick Thibodeau

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