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Microsoft amassing high-performance server software attack

John Fontana | Sept. 26, 2008
The strategy encompasses Microsoft applying its typical mantra of "simplifying computing" to the costly and often complex high-performance computing world.

FRAMINGHAM, 25 SEPTEMBER 2008 - Microsoft has built a strategy around the planned early-November release of its high-performance computing server that it hopes will be the catalyst to deliver massive computing power for future applications.

The strategy encompasses Microsoft applying its typical mantra of "simplifying computing" to the costly and often complex high-performance computing world in the form of its Windows HPC Server 2008 surrounded by Microsoft's collection of applications, management wares, development tools and independent software vendor community.

"We are not talking about a lot of unique product development here; it is mostly about packaging and coming up with appropriate licensing," says Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata. "But as HPC becomes more and more mainstream and used for all kinds of commercial roles, whether it is product design or business analytics, Windows is not such an unnatural fit as it might have been in the past."

Microsoft last week said it would release on Nov. 1 HPC Server 2008, the company's most competent move to date to offer parallel computing horsepower to corporations doing more real-time simulations, designs and number crunching.

But the road is decidedly uphill.

Microsoft currently lays claim to less than 5% of HPC server market revenue, according to IDC. Those numbers compare with 74% for Linux and just more than 21% for Unix variants.

In addition, competitors such as Red Hat have been offering its Enterprise Linux for HPC Compute Nodes since last year. And Sun late last year reentered the HPC fray with its Constellation System.

Those sorts of challenges, however, have not deterred Microsoft in the past.

The company is betting users such as engineers will combine workflows running on their Windows workstations with Windows-based back-end HPC clusters, or move those workloads off the desktop and into an HPC infrastructure.

Microsoft also envisions such desktop/back-end combinations as Excel users performing a function call from their desktop, which in the background executes an agent that runs some computational algorithms on a networked HPC cluster and returns an answer. The user would have no concept of the back-end tied to Excel, which is widely used in financial services.

Since the 2006 release of Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003, Microsoft has been working with partners such as HP and Intel to create mass market appeal for HPC and the message may finally be striking a chord as prices drop and performance rises on technical computing platforms.

But Microsoft, experts say, isn't likely to climb the ladder and replace high-end HPC environments built on Linux and Unix.

The real opportunity is appealing to new buyers with a Windows desktop infrastructure looking anew at HPC for workgroups or departments.

 

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